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Wolf In The Breast

Chapter Text

Not in all the years since Arlathan, since his beloved city died, had the sunlight that fell on a place felt so cold. He had returned here to ply his secrets under the eye-piercing glare of the snow, while the banners of a pierced eye at every tower mocked his affront. He had never intended to return—he had brought danger. It was fortunate those who welcomed him didn't know it was the Wolf they invited in.

"More pilgrims?" asked the man at the gate. "We don't care what shape your ears are. But if you want to see the Herald, your best bet is to wait for petitions. They let anybody into the hall for that. Great view if you arrive early!"

"I thank you for the information," he said. "And what if I also wish to petition the Inquisitor?"

The guard gaped at his impertinence, a mere elf. "You want to do what?"

The two companions at his side stirred with irritation. He cast them a stern glance. Arlasan stood mute, as was his preference. Ilgarla, ever the more impatient, cast down her fennec-fur hood with a sharp gesture.

The human faltered for a moment under her baleful eyes. "Most who arrive for such things send messages well in advance. I don't rightly know how it might be arranged." He looked over his shoulder and hailed another human. "Here, Lysette. These elves want to petition her Worship."

But when Lysette saw his face her expression lifted in recognition and surprise. She somehow remembered him—it was not mutual.

"Solas? Messere Solas, I mean? You wish to see the Inquisitor?"

He did.

"I'm sure she'll be very happy to see an old friend."

He thought that very unlikely, but did not say so.

"Is it important to speak with her today?"

He had a matter of some urgency to discuss. Could it be arranged?

He asked if they might rest until it was time, and so his small party passed beneath the gate, finding purchase between patches of drifted snow and smooth refrozen ice. The cold cut into their cloaks as they crossed the bridge, but then the wind in the mountains near Tarasyl'an Te'las had always held a fierce song. The Avvar believed the mountains had a heart. Their king had hidden it in the Frostbacks for safekeeping, only to turn cold and cruel in its absence. According to the tale, a man became a tyrant without his heart.

He forced his thoughts away from the story. They followed Lysette to a room above the inner gate house. There they found small beer and a basin of fresh water for washing, which he was happy to accept after their journey.

His companions cast off their traveling cloaks. They were all glad of the warmth and the opportunity to rest. Arlasan downed his tankard in a single draught, splashed his face with water, then left to see about the wards.

Ilgarla closed the door after him. "I thought the humans might have forgotten you, ruan'in."

"Never use that word again," he snapped.

Her proud expression didn't alter. "Ara seranna-ma. But has not it been several years? Do not the quick-blooded forget after so much time?"

"It is not so very long, even for them. I am still known here, as you observed. She will remember."

"You have not told me much about this Herald of yours, this Inquisitor. Is it a high post? Does she command these quicklings?"

"She rules over them like a priestess or a queen of your time. If I have not blundered so very badly, she will be a priceless ally."

"You have a high opinion of her."

"I do. It is merited."

Ilgarla sipped her beer. Her expression said puzzled/amused. "A queen of quicklings. She would view herself as kin to us, to you."

"Tu din banal'lethallin! Do not make the mistake of thinking them lower. They have forgotten, that is all."

Ilgarla gazed at her tankard and fell silent. And he was glad of it.

Arlasan rejoined them and they waited in silence. He had no desire for conversation, and his companions respected his wish. The Veil here was placid, slow with the weight of unhurried years. There was not much change in it since he had left near five years before, then a trusted companion of Inquisitor Evin Lavellan, when he ventured forth with her to battle a twisted creature raised high by a device of his own creation.

He had not spoken to her since that final day, nor had he seen her anywhere but memory. Yet in the Veil all around him he could now sense her presence. It resurrected pain which for him was all too fresh. And yet... and yet, he had been correct to leave. He had never doubted.

A few hours passed, which he judged by the waning of the small fire the guards had lit in the room to ward off the cold. He caught snatches of the humans' conversation in the courtyard outside. A recent foray into the Hinterlands. Darkspawn. A new blacksmith recruited. Something about the Inquisitor's son.

Her child...?

He closed his eyes, overwhelmed with sheer relief. And he savagely fought back the pain. Serannas, ma serannas! He had made the right decision. She had built a life here after all.

Was it Cullen's child? Or some other elvhen she had met? She must be happy, then. Good. He would thank any deity responsible, but he supposed he must award the honor to the nearest available being, and smiled.

They could meet freely, he could face her without apprehension, knowing she had given her heart to someone else.

The noon sun had just passed its zenith when a party collected them. When they reached the Main Hall he didn't look for faces he recognized. He didn't look for changes he knew must exist. He didn't look through the opened door to the right, to the frescos painted in the tower chamber where they'd courted. He didn't listen for the few voices which, recognizing him, murmured what they thought was his name.

Her voice surrounded him: familiar, resonant steel. The educated accent, so rare among the Dalish. She was questioning someone.

There were nobles and traders gathered here. There were guards posted at the doors, the familiar scent of wood-fires, incense and tallow. Her throne, back-lit by soaring windows of sky-blue painted glass, the primitive beauty of this age. He drew closer to the throne. The Inquisitor was pronouncing a judgment.

He never understood how she always knew what her audience needed to hear. She somehow found the exact words to command their loyalty or penance, the wisdom to make the decision best suited to the accused and the community they'd offended. It would have been remarkable in elvhen of ages past. In her it was astonishing. Truly she had solidified her rule here as much as with the Anchor. It had made her the Inquisitor, a leader her people would live, die, and kill for.

The years since they had parted had not taught her better posture. The oversized throne dwarfed her narrow frame, and she slouched in it exactly as he remembered. She was entirely unchanged—her hair was longer. His bare-faced, brilliant star. He felt such fierce pride, as proud as his name.

And she had moved on. He wished her happy.

The prisoner was led away. He barely noticed, so absorbed was he by her shimmering echo in the Veil.

"Solas." The Inquisitor smiled. He read it as polite friendship/interest/wary. "Andaran atish'an, ma falon."

"Ma serannas, Inquisitor. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me so quickly."

"Of course." Her voice grew wry. "I was a little worried you might disappear again."

"I hope I am not unwelcome."

"Why would you be unwelcome? They tell me you wish to make a petition. What is it you want of the Inquisition, Solas?"

"Before that... I must tell you I was likely followed. I wish you would close the gate. Alert your forces, if you would."

Her hand lifted. "Captain, make the necessary preparations."

A guard saluted and left. The onlookers began to murmur.

"Forgive me," he said. "I know I have no right. Is it possible to speak with you alone?"

She paused before answering, seeming to ponder the presence of the two elvhen. Her eyes returned to his, and her smile became more like the one he remembered. "Let's have lunch. Will my quarters do?"

She slept in the highest tower in the place, what had been a rookery before the time of Garahel. His companions followed them up the stair but made no move to enter the room.

She nodded at them. "Are these your friends, Solas?"

"The matter concerns them, but they will wait outside."

"I recognize you," Evin said to Ilgarla. "You're the one who told me to stop poking about at the Temple of Mythal."

Ilgarla folded her arms. "I remember you also."

"It was a bit rude. I like poking about," Evin said.

Ilgarla said nothing.

After considering the elvhen woman for another moment, Evin preceded him up the short stair to the chamber proper. He had been there once or twice before. The bed had hangings now, he noticed. The doors to the balcony were closed. Brightly colored cloth was woven between the railings. The pattern was Dalish.

She bade him sit across from her at the table, already laid for a meal, and poured wine into a goblet, which she offered him. "Why am I not surprised to see you in their company, Solas? I assume the world is about to end or else you wouldn't be here."

"That does seem to be the usual occasion for our meetings," he said.

"So you are in danger. What's wrong?"

"My concern is for you. There is a chance I was followed, hence the need for caution."

She wasn't eating. She was watching him, considering, weighing his lies. He couldn't read her. He needed desperately to win her support, to bring forth his arguments, but in reality he was consumed by his personal desires. It was exactly as he had feared.

He must prove that he could equal her composure. He must move past this.

"I learned you have a child," he said. "I wish you much felicity."

For a moment her stillness confused him. Then she nodded. "Would you like to meet him?"

Surely she did not mean her mate? He fought to maintain his expression. "Your son?"

"Your son, Solas."

And he tried to speak, but couldn't.

Chapter Text

After that astonishing remark the Inquisitor suddenly grew much more relaxed. Her long, thin fingers tore at a bread roll. She began to eat it a piece at a time.

"You've returned for some other reason, then. Tell me about the danger you may or may not have brought here," Evin said.

Your son.

"Wait," he said. "My child? That is not possible."

Her incredulous gaze—wide, wide sunset eyes—met his. "I think I would know, I was there."

"But we were never intimate in that way," he protested. He'd begun to sweat, he found.

"You really don't remember? One night after the Grand Ball, you were being all 'grim and fatalistic' about the fate of the elves. You wanted to show me something in the Fade, and you didn't exactly hesitate when we were there."

He... remembered.

"As I recall," she continued, "I didn't waken in my own bed. I also remember you were very awkward toward me the next several days. It was a bit ungentlemanly, Solas. Does it not count if it's Fade sex?"

If it wasn't only Fade sex....

He stared at her in fading astonishment and growing dismay. There was an unfamiliar feeling in his chest, a lightness and a heaviness that threatened to steal his voice.

They spoke at the same time:

"If we actually—"

"I didn't mean to—"

They both fell silent, a moment before the door to the stairwell opened. He welcomed the distraction until he realized what it portended. Footsteps on the stairs, the wooden boards creaking. A serving woman holding a small boy's hand. His breath caught.

A boy of no more than three years.

Tow-headed and skinny, an elvhen child, the tips of his ears just peeking out from short curls. Light eyes more like his than Evin's. A child's undeveloped nose, the classical slope he'd never liked on his own face, yet somehow perfect here.

That weightless sensation again. It took a few attempts to speak. "What is his name?"

"Come give mamae a hug, Revas."

Evin pushed her chair out from the table. Hands extended, uncomplicated genuine warmth. He'd never received such a smile.

Revas regarded him, the stranger, with doubt, then ran to Evin. The child ducked behind her legs, hiding his face.

Such a name. That hurt, too.

She was so very calm. "Are you not going to eat, Solas?"

"I... am not very hungry."

"Has Revas had lunch?" she asked the serving woman.

"Yes, your Worship."

The child looked up from his hiding place behind her knees. "We ate eggs. I want a cookie."

"Would you like to meet my friend Solas, ma'len? If you greet him very nicely, he'll give you a cookie."

That drew a smile. The child, influenced by arrant bribery, took a step or two toward him. He bobbed a short bow and said, as though by rote, "I am very pleased to meet you ser."

"Ir serannas, my son," said Fen'Harel. He gave the child the promised sweet.

The boy was pleased by the offering. "Are you an elf?" Revas asked.

"I am," he replied gravely.

Evin watched the interchange as closely as a she-wolf with her cub. Her careful manner was unchanged. "Revas, I need to talk to Solas alone. Linna, will you take him to wash up? He can play in the garden until it's time for his nap."

"Yes, your Worship."

Fen'Harel's hands trembled. And he was glad, and amazed, and profoundly frightened. For he had made another misstep, on a scale which paled to insignificance so many others of his long, long life. In ignorance, in a momentary lapse of emotion he had created another hostage: his perfect child.

Such a stunning miscalculation would not be overlooked by his many, his so very many enemies.

Chapter Text

The wind roared outside, rattling the balcony doors, disrupting the patterned diamonds of light and shadow that fell across the table. It was just the two of them in her chamber again. The Inquisitor continued to pick at the meal, but Fen'Harel hadn't really touched it: a simple lunch of bread and ptarmigan. Now it had grown cold. He realized he never should have come here, if only for that child's sake. But it was too late now.

He needed the Anchor. He needed it enough he would trade the long-concealed truth to get it. He needed it so badly he would risk her life, her people, he would even risk his son. The situation was that dire. And he had run out of options.

If you pay that price, a voice whispered, what will you become?

Evin Lavellan laughed. "Solas, your face is an Orlesian mask of horror. Is it really so terrible to have a child?"

He schooled his expression. "Not terrible, no."

She was playing with her knife, pushing the food around on her plate. "I thought it possible you already knew."

That stung. "You believe I would have abandoned you?" he demanded. "That I would have left if I had known?"

"Wouldn't you?"

He just stared at her. Because after all, wasn't she right?

No. No, he would never have left her like that. If he'd dreamed it possible he would have done something unforgivable, but she never would have known.

She had tried to send word. All the agents he had dodged, the tricks he had used to escape her people and prevent her following him, had merely served to protect his ignorance. In his success he had spawned another devastating personal failure. The disastrous pattern of his life.

"You don't have to run away again," Evin said. "You made your decision about the two of us quite clear. I don't expect you to be a parent. No one even knows Revas is yours."

He shook his head. "But... the timing?"

"Exactly. I carried Revas for eighteen months, not ten. No one thought to wonder how long such things took for the ancient elvhen."

He had to tell her the truth. He had to tell her right now. But they were alone for once and he had new questions, all unexpected. The 'ancient' elvhen? Had her people changed so much?

"Where did you go when the birth delirium came over you? There is no vhenadahl here," he said.

"No, nor any suitable trees. Toward the end I took to wandering the frozen paths outside Skyhold. I didn't realize I was searching. Finally one of the hahrens recognized the signs. He told me to find a place consecrated to the Creators."

"Mythal, perhaps? Or Ghilan'nain?"

"No. I crossed the Sea. The temple of Dirthamen we found on the coast."

"That place?" He was appalled. "You had our child in that filthy, flooded hole? Littered with broken curses, dismembered undead?"

"We cleared it out pretty thoroughly." Evin sipped her tea, centered the cup on its saucer. "There was a place near the entrance. Carpeted in green moss, where a young oak grew beneath the eyes of the Wolf. Don't judge me," she said defensively, "I was delirious."

"I did not intend to. I am surprised, that is all."

She had given birth under the grace of Dirthamen, his brother. But Dirthamen slept, and the god of secrets kept them well. Even from me, he thought.

"When I returned to Skyhold with a little elf baby—" something glittered in her eyes— "it surprised many who thought I carried some human's child. In Halamshiral there were even those who suggested I had switched my child for another. Can you imagine?"

He could. "For the Inquisitor, every action is political."

"I didn't discourage the stories. Let them wonder."

Better for there to be some doubt. Safer. She had been... unexpectedly prudent. She had always surprised him.

"I did try to send word," she said. "I must have looked like such a fool to everyone. You lied to me. About everything."

There it was, and he didn't regret a single word. He never would. He'd anticipated this moment for weeks, as soon as he'd seen what he must do. Let her scream—let her shout at him. Exercise her anger. He was fairly certain she wouldn't try to kill him.

He hoped... he hoped she wouldn't cry.

He lifted his chin, met her eyes squarely. He read there pain, but no tears.

"So," she said. "You lied about your name. You lied about where you're from and the clans you visited. You even lied about visiting Ostagar in the Fade. None of the spirits there remembered you, 'Solas'. Whatever reason you returned, whatever you need the Inquisition for, why should I believe you? Why in the world would I help?"

He nodded. "You are the Inquisitor. You protect the innocent. You do what must be done, it is your nature. I could not have loved you otherwise."

Her voice rose. "But you—!" She drew a breath as though to shout—he wondered briefly if he should brace himself, there were plenty of throwable objects within reach—but then it all changed. It was like the sun had gone behind a cloud.

Evin shifted slightly in the chair. "I forget, this all must have come as a shock." Her voice, her entire attitude were utterly self-possessed once more. "I also have my pride. I won't press you about the past. Tell me what you came to say."

Fen'Harel's eyes narrowed. What was this? What had he just witnessed?

She was doing it even now. Exactly what he wanted to hear, exactly what would command his good opinion, or soothe his feelings.

Why? But more importantly, how? How could she know him, know any of them so well? The Inquisitor commanded the loyalty of the foremost men and women of this age. She balanced the fate of nations and never stumbled. And here she was, observing him so coolly over her tea. How dare she remain so calm? His heart was pounding, and she was somehow unmoved? No mortal had such wisdom. It was not possible.

And there she sat, imitating a spirit of patience when he had treated her with such cruelty, when she still lacked any of the answers she sought. The pieces did not fit. The pieces had never fit. How galling, to not notice until now!

Five years ago he had still been weak, disoriented after his slumber. He wouldn't have recognized the signs. Could she have made some bargain with a spirit, a demon? The Forgotten Ones were gone but there were still powers in the Dark.

She had secrets too. And now he had the power to see it.

Fen'Harel felt a smile twisting at his mouth. Perhaps he would enjoy this after all. The time for secrets was over.

The only mortal to draw his attention from the Fade. He laughed.

"Before the explosion that created the Anchor," he began, "I had slept for many ages. When I woke I called myself Solas. But your people know me. They call me by another Name."

He rose to his feet. And taking her left hand in his, he looked down into her horrified eyes, and told her.

Chapter Text

Dread Wolf.

The Inquisitor's arm jerked but Fen'Harel kept hold. He felt her fingers spasm in his grasp.

The Veil rippled—the tower room, the sun-kissed windows, everything around them shuddered—but he was ready.

He wouldn't have caught it if they were not touching. She had channeled the energy in the space of a heartbeat, unnoticeable to anyone without his perception. He clasped the signature, mirrored its complexity, and drew it over himself like the hem of a cloak.

And plunged into the dreaming Fade.

Thoughts in fragments—as though he had tumbled underwater and on surfacing caught phrases, words snatched from moments in time:

"—only one survivor. They say she stepped out of the Fade."

"Mortals cannot physically enter the Fade, Seeker." His voice.

"The Mark on her hand is killing her. You say you have studied such things? Keep her alive."

"That may not be possible—"

"We must question her about the explosion. If the prisoner dies, apostate, I will kill you."

For a moment he was lost, disoriented, buffeted by asymmetric energies and unable to determine up from down or a proper frame of reference. But he had not wandered the twisting paths for so long for nothing. He bent his mind to the chaos. To accept, not struggle.

The horizon took shape, righted itself.

Where was he? He did not recognize this part of the Fade, though he'd roamed the dreaming world near Skyhold for years. What spell had Evin Lavellan cast? Its shape was more complex than the simplistic surge of mana most mages used to access the Fade. He'd had no trouble duplicating her spell, but the constructs left a strange taste on his tongue. Unknown magic—fascinating. How he wished to analyze it—but there were more pressing concerns.

He didn't see her, nor did he sense her presence.

He pushed himself up from what he thought of as the ground, stretching his muscles, luxuriating in the unleashed power of his true form. After a few moments he shook himself into the shape of a man, visualized a stave, and grasped it with his hand.

"What a curious wolf," said a voice behind him and above.

Fen'Harel whirled, bracing his staff.

Two unblinking tawny eyes regarded him from the dreamlike curve of a tree twisted and bent back upon itself. A double-bearded ruff, black tufted ears, its coat an indistinct mélange of brown and silver-gray. A lynx.

Oh, wonderful.

"There is nothing to amuse you here, spirit," Fen'Harel warned.

The lynx-creature dropped down from the tree. Its limbs were ungainly to his eyes, but it moved with a hunter's swift economy. "Mysteries amuse me much, lupus metus."

"Find your own amusement," he said.

Lifting his stave, he wrapped forgetfulness around himself like a cloak. Startled, the lynx looked past him. Fen'Harel disappeared.

The Wolf had her scent, and he would follow.

It was the chase—part of his old soul ached with delight. Everything was brighter in the Fade, the colors more vivid and distinct. The trail crossed pools of clear water that rippled of their own volition, vales of incense and ivy that bloomed and shed funereal tears as it withered, all in the space of moments. Music came in snatches from half-remembered dreams. Ghostly impressions—a reaching hand, the winking eye of a face in profile. Words of a song wavering on and off the edge of memory, like water dripping from the roof of a cave, catching sunlight for a moment as it fell.

Curious wisps drifted into his wake as he passed, stirred by his movement and emotive purpose. On his right hand, the far-off spires of the Black City shadowed him, ever present, ever watchful. The path became a slope that grew quite steep, then it met a trail that diverged in three directions. The first choice led him back to the fork, so he selected the next, and then the next, and finally the first again.

Why had the Inquisitor come here? What did she intend to do? And how in the Abyss had she managed to outpace him?

He thought he was getting closer; the scent-impression had grown stronger. It had led him to a cleared place, a flat stretch of nothing obscured by mist, what the eye mistook for distance. He willed himself to its center, truncating the span with a thought. And the mist resolved into a smooth wall of slate. In the wall was set a gate—wrought by someone who knew what gates were for.

This was never dreamt by any of the simple denizens of the Fade. It was too congruous, too designed. And it was far too solid to be a remnant of memory. It must belong to a powerful demon. Or... something else? What other options were there?

Too many questions.

He stared up at the gate in dismay. He had seen all too many mages fall to pieces in the shadowed world through overconfidence, stupidity or ignorance. Evin hadn't even awakened to magic until the Breach had opened. She had little enough formal training, and she was here without her friends. She might be in terrible danger.

More to the point, he reminded himself, the Anchor might be in terrible danger. He could not afford its loss. If he felt anxiety, that must be the cause. What was the life of one elf-woman weighed against it?

He pushed through the gate, absentmindedly slipping past the protective barrier. There followed a series of simple challenges that functioned to deter random passing spirits that lacked intention or mindfulness. Then a shallow pool of water lined with flat gray stones, and a staircase that divided itself on either side of a tall, wrought door.

And he began to hear voices.

His voice.

"I journeyed deep into the Fade..."

"I have watched dynasties form and empires crumble..."

It was oddly irritating to hear his voice outside his own head. It sounded higher-pitched, more nasal than he was used to.

"Some were dedicated to specific members of our pantheon—"

Extremely irritating. He surged up the stairs, determined to find the source.

Another barrier on the door—and the signature felt oddly familiar, almost like a barrier he would create. Shaking his head at the notion, he forced it open.

A shore onto a black ocean, a vast expanse of listless waves receding into the greenish-yellow of the Fade-sky, punctured with specks like anti-stars, those distant floating isles. The space before it, paved with the same flat gray stones, was bordered by a gallery of crystals, white facets edged with green. The waves lapped at the shore, a soft metonym to the raised mediant and subdominant of the crystals. This was some enchantment, the harmonic of unfamiliar magic. It made his teeth clench.

Evin Lavellan stood on the shore before that black sea. The Inquisitor's shape flickered before him, as her idea of herself warred with his. The lynx sat beside her, unblinking eyes regarded him with mirth.

He stared back.

The Fade creature stood, gathered itself to leap. Fen'Harel snapped his fingers. And the lynx was not. He kept walking.

"Guile!" she exclaimed.

"Evin, what is this place?" he demanded.

"You followed me here?"

"I told you my Name," he said. "You know who I am. You thought to hide from me in the Fade? "

"Then you truly are the Dread Wolf. It was real. It was all real—"

She lifted her hand—he felt the pressure of her will, heard the subdominant alter. The Anchor. She was channeling power through it, but not to open a rift. It was slower, more diffused than that. And suddenly he saw the pale outline of an eluvian with two heraldic supporters. His figure and Mythal's, impossibly huge, filling nearly the entire space around him. Fade phantasm wrought with astonishing clarity. He backed away from them, toward Evin, toward the shore.

The figures spoke:

"You should not have given your orb to Corypheus—"

"The failure was mine. I should pay the price..."

And the rest he couldn't hear above the roaring in his ears.

It was that moment—that tragic, brutal moment in the Crossroads. How had she seen this? What trick? Not possible. How in the name of the gods had she found it? What malicious spirit? That vile lynx?

He had never wanted her to see this.

He reached for her, caught her hand to disrupt the spell.

She jerked away from him. "Murderer!" she screamed. "You killed the Protectress. You killed her!"

"Mythal died long ago—"

"You stole her power! How could you do it?" she shouted, shoving at him. "What are you waiting for? Just do it! Take what you came for!"

"Take it?" he repeated.

"Take the Mark!" Tears streamed down her cheeks. She sank to her knees. "But please, please spare Revas. Don't kill our son. Just kill me, I won't fight you. If I ever meant anything to you, take the Mark and go."

The Wolf saw her submit and was pleased.

Shocked at his own reaction, he found himself embracing her. "Vhenan, I would never—"

"You would. I know you would."

The simple truth. It wasn't a short blade.

"I would... do what is necessary to save the People," he said finally.

He released her, sinking onto his heels. "Listen to me," he said. "The Anchor is part of you. When you die it will cease to exist. If you don't believe me, believe that Corypheus would have taken it if he could. No power can remove it."

It was close enough to the truth.

"Evin..." he said.

Her eyes met his but he read her expression as abhorrence/despair. A part of him was in agony, a part he thought he'd managed to kill long ago. Another part wondered about the voices on the stair. What more had she—

"Then tell me," she said, "why did my death change when you returned?"

Chapter Text

The Wolf longed to howl in frustration. All he had wanted this morning was to collect his Inquisitor and go. So much for those plans. Was this Evin Lavellan's new talent for complicating everything, or was he just cursed? He had too many questions. How could he find answers here in the Fade, where belief in a thing made it true?

Let Evin despise him—that he could accept. He preferred it to mild indifference, to the stinging realization that however many years had gone by for her, as far as his traitorous heart was concerned he was still standing in the twilit grove where he'd set her free. For him not a single day had passed. And not a single thing had changed, because he would, in the end, have to walk away all over again.

She knelt not far from him, cradling the Anchor with her right hand, framed by the pillar of crystals behind her and the black of the false Fade sea. His brilliant star—the spark that burned in the deep. Those downcast eyes. Those enticing tears.

Let her hate, so long as she cared at all. He needed to see.

He reached for her. His fingers gently turned her face toward him, and before she could react in any way he kissed her.

Her lips parted in surprise. His tongue tasted her, tasted the dweomer of her magic, slipped past the neutral ambient energy of her unconscious barrier. All the magic she had cast was layered on her skin. He pulled her closer, his fingers tracing the silken hair at the nape of her neck, seeking truth but suddenly lost in his senses. He wanted more.

Dizzy swirl of sense-impressions, constructed harmonies, a duration of decades, not years. A confusing tangle for the eye like the denuded branches of a tree yearning for the sky.

She broke away, gasping. "Are you insane?"

Fen'Harel opened his eyes, shook his head to clear away the confusion. "You... stop time. You come here to... decide?" He paused, uncertain of the words. "You make the future, pruning the branches, constructing it."


For all intents and purposes, prevision was a joke. A punchline for parties: Did you hear about Valerius' prophet? Such a droll story. Nobody knew the future, not with any detail, and without detail it was useless. At most you got bad poetry, sufficiently vague to apply to fifty situations in retrospect or entertain your supper guests before the first course. He'd never studied the exact phenomenon, but any such ability properly executed would require power far beyond the reach of most mages.

Unless that mage had the Anchor—

A Dreamer who could access the Fade at will, manipulate it—

To mold subjective time and channel massive flows of possibility from the Fade, neither of which were hallmarks of the magic of this age—

She had gone a year into the future, Redcliffe, seen everything, it was possible, at least to some extent—

But how much could a mortal truly see? His natural skepticism rose.

Trust Tevinter to devise something this perverse.

"You're so cruel." Evin surged to her feet. "No wonder entire civilizations hate you."

He looked up at her in astonishment, then recovered the thread of conversation. He rose to his feet. "I apologize. It wasn't the most diplomatic way to proceed, but I needed you to be surprised."

"Na tel'abelas!" she said, furious. "I'll punish you later."

"Then why did you kiss me back?"

"You're such a liar," she said. "Do you know what I realize? There's no scenario in which you ever told me the truth. You don't know how many times I examined what you said to me, every possible thing you might have said. You broke my heart—I needed a reason. You never gave me one."

"How could I tell you the truth?" he demanded. "How could I further a relationship based on lies? It was far kinder to walk away."

"And this is the father of my child," she said.

He fought to control his temper. At least you and Revas were safe.

He gestured to the place where the phantasm of Mythal and himself had stood, the terrible moment re-enacted before his eyes. The amphitheatre paved with flat gray stone, studded with clusters of resonating green-laced crystal that sketched the space around them.

"This is the Fade, Evin. Whatever you think you see here is a reflection of the past, a muddle of memories prone to distortion. It was one of the first things you learned."

"That's what you taught me," she said. "You also told me the cardinal rules of magic, though you've personally broken every one. More lies."

"Are you telling me you pay credence to these—scenarios of yours? That you make decisions based on them? If you believe you've seen your own death—"

She made a sharp, dismissing gesture. "I shouldn't have told you that. Everything that's begotten and born will die, I'm no different. You know that Alexius sent me a year into the future when we went to Redcliffe to free the mages. It was how we defeated Corypheus—we knew his plans. Alexius used Tevinter magic, brutal and crude. But I don't need to send myself bodily through time. All I need is to see. Here, in this place, the Mark shows me what's possible."

He shook his head. "Nothing but memory, twisted by emotion and the imaginings of spirits—"

"Even still water becomes a mirror. What do you think the Fade is, Dread Wolf? Aren't you one of the Creators? Maybe you meant some other kind of god. A junior god."

"The word is almost meaningless," he said.

But even as he spoke his thoughts raced ahead. What was it that had disturbed him so greatly before, when the Inquisitor faced him in her stronghold with such infuriating calm? A god might react with such distance—though they usually didn't, he had to admit—because of their power and the unhurried perspective of immortality. Every defeat in the Game bore the seeds of its own reversal. Every hand, every round only led to another. For the quickened, those who must die, those who could be killed with impunity? The stakes were infinitely higher.

He had understood that very well before his ascension.

How much easier to maintain one's equanimity when one knew what to expect, when one could foresee the outcome of any exchange. When one knew exactly what to do or say. A breathtaking thought if it were true.

In the Still Ruins she had asked him how the rifts might interact with time, and he'd explained the concepts of dilation and compression. Those effects were well understood. Would that have been enough? The missing piece she'd needed? Moment to moment she could escape into the Fade, return here, view the layered outcomes....

He had always wanted to believe destiny didn't exist. The only future was the one every person forged of free choice and free will. He didn't want to be wrong.

"I am old, da'len," he said finally. "You cannot comprehend the number of years I have lived, much less what it means to have lived them. It is difficult for me to believe something so new could possibly exist. I never heard of a power like you describe."

"Mythal did," Evin said.

Just when he thought she couldn't astonish him again. "When did you—"

"Mythal told me she was the force that nudged history, that sometimes she shoved. She saw the same things I do. Her vallaslin is the naked tree, branching lines of crisis and decision. In some branches I live, in others I die."

Her gaze shifted inward, remembering:

"At first the Mark helped. The only decision lines where I survived were the ones where I'd mastered the power. Even the briefest glimpses were useful. I did well to survive until Haven, but Redcliffe showed me I needed more. The world ended too many ways. Corypheus was too strong, the Inquisition wasn't ready. I had to build it, make it stronger. I had to become the force that pivots the world. The Mark was the fulcrum."

He remembered. There had been no major setbacks after Haven. Everything had gone so smoothly. Every stratagem Corypheus had employed, every planned betrayal, had been defeated with so little cost. The muzzling of the Wardens. The smooth execution of Florianne—her astonishing performance at Halamshiral. Her shackling of Morrigan at the Well. As though she'd known without his telling her the price there was to pay.

"My followers believe the Maker guides me. They think a god whispers in my ear, that I was chosen to save the world. But everything I've achieved, everything I've done, is the result of effort, iterated improvement over years of study here in the Fade. And you think it was all just something I imagined, or random chance."

"I never thought it was random. A remarkable talent, perhaps."

She faced the roiling black waves of the Fade sea that stretched before them. A trace of the calm she'd demonstrated in the physical world. "We've misunderstood each other too long. You told me your truth. Let me show you mine."

And he saw, far out over the water, three black shapes winging ever closer. Two with wings of silver, one with wings of green. He knew them. This was the danger that chased the Wolf, the seed of ruin that whispered despair.

"Dragons," she said. "They reach Skyhold in less than a day."

"They are not dragons," he said.

Chapter Text

"They named you well, Bringer of Nightmares," Evin Lavellan said. Wincing in pain, the Inquisitor looked away from the three winged horrors far out over the black Fade-sea. The apparition of the future had already started to dim. "Something worse than dragons? I don't even want to ask."

And here it was. Fen'Harel braced himself, ready for the questions he had dreaded ever since he determined he must return, ready for the Inquisitor to turn her hawk-like gaze to him. If he bared his closest secrets would she absolve him? Or recoil in horror? He had put her people in terrible danger but he was willing to pay that price. He would make her understand. Sometimes a god's power only led to even more disastrous—

"I should take a nap," she said.

"How... does that follow?" he managed to say.

"There's so much to do, and I'm exhausted." Evin tapped her chin with a thoughtful finger. "I need to think. Plan. You should go."

"There are things I need to tell you first," he said. "Things you ought to know. After the Orb was destroyed I hoped I would never—"

"Don't. Just stop. I don't want to be confused by your stories." She looked up at him with sheer weariness in her eyes. "Whatever you tell me won't be the whole truth. Will it? I'll see for myself soon enough."

No. Not if he had his way.

"Evin, we must prepare to leave Tarasyl'an immediately," Fen'Harel said.

She folded her arms. "I'm not going anywhere."

Finally! Here was a response he had expected. "There are good fights and bad fights," he said. "Fights we can win and fights we can lose. This is not a good fight. There is too much at stake. Tactically speaking we must retreat."

"Tactically sound, strategically incorrect," she replied. "I can't evacuate an entire fortress in less than a day. To give up Skyhold without a battle would send the wrong message. Three dragons and a defensible position? The Inquisition will stand and fight. I can't go."

"They are not dragons, Evin," he said. "If you come with me I think it likely they will follow, bypass Skyhold entirely. My enemies would not wish us to escape their grasp."

Evin looked down at the water that lapped so softly at the paved stones beside them. She was hugging herself. "What if they attack Skyhold anyway?"

"We will take Revas with us. He would be safe."

"And the other children? Aren't they important to their parents too? Acceptable losses, Dread Wolf?"

This was the leader he remembered. A magnificent response—he admired her for it—but damned inconvenient. "I did not say that," he said. "You could warn your people. There is some little time to prepare."

"Tell them to prepare for danger while I flee to safety? How does that work? Do you think I don't know what happens if I leave? Who are you talking to, Dread Wolf?"

Fen'Harel had no doubt of her ability. How else could she have shown him their shape, their number? The muscles in his jaw tightened. "Then tell me what you see."

She walked toward the nearest crystal at her right hand, lifted her fingers over it, coaxing its harmony into a higher key. "Lines within lines—disaster and opportunity. There's more at stake than my life. I have to stay."

For one insane moment he wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shout: If you are lost, all is meaningless! I don't know if I can protect you!

But that would simply frighten her. He didn't know what more he could say to change her mind. It was her choice to make—he would not take that from her or anyone.

"I will not force you to leave," he said.

"I know you wouldn't," she said. "I know the stakes. After all—what would a god fear except another god?"

He recoiled as though he had been struck physically. Then she has seen it. "Evin, I never would have—"

"Go on ahead. I'll meet you when you wake. Mortal, remember? I'm very tired."

Emma ir abelas Andruil. "But there's so little time—"

"How odd, I thought you understood. Time doesn't pass while I'm here... or for you, since you followed me."

He followed the thought since it was more cheerful than the others. "Do you really sleep here in the Fade?"

"I run a continent-spanning organization and I have a three year old child. How many hours do you think I get to myself? Revas woke up crying three times last night. I need to rest. And... I need time. To think. Without you."

"Very well, but we should discuss—"

"Fine. Go. Just go, will you?"

He gazed at the pattern of flat stones beneath his feet, reached out with his will and shattered them—

"May I speak with you, Solas?"

Here it was. He had expected questions, but perhaps not this soon. "How can I be of assistance, Sister Nightingale?" he asked.

"It concerns the Herald. Tell me, what do you know of Clan Lavellan?"

"Do you ask me simply because I am an elf? I regret to inform you I am not acquainted with every member of my race. The Herald mentioned her people live in the Free Marches. Perhaps you might inquire there."

"Oh, but I have. I learned of a Dalish clan by that name, but the most recent report was of a massacre near Wycombe—thirty years ago. Clan Lavellan is extinct. Curious, is it not?"

Curious if you were a spymaster, he supposed. What did he care if some quick-blooded she-elf told lies about her name?

"What do you think, Solas? Is this the herald Andraste sent to us? Or are we being tested? I would like you to ask this Lavellan some questions...."

Chapter Text

Fen'Harel returned to his senses with the torturous feeling he was collapsing in upon himself. Crumpled, like clay crushed in a mold. Waking always was the worst part. Half his soul was caged and locked away, yet his flesh felt too small to contain his living spirit, and the Fen'edal around his neck smoldered with the weight of eons. Here all his faculties were sluggish and circumscribed—some did not even exist. The Veil blazed in his awareness, beckoning him to return, but the Fade beyond it dimmed like an eye closing in sleep.

He had taken Evin Lavellan's hand before the Dream. Gazing down into her eyes, the ghost of a forgotten snarl on his lips. Not a moment had passed since he had followed her into the Fade.

Evin stared back at him, then matter-of-factly disengaged from his grip. She made a little half-stretch with her arms, still seated in her chair. "I feel much better." She frowned at the remains of the meal on the table beside them. "Am I hungry? I don't remember."

"How much longer did you stay?" he demanded. "A week?"

She looked past him to the candle clock on the fireplace mantle. "The War Council will meet shortly. I should go."

What a confounded woman. He offered his hand, helped her to her feet.

"There are things I must do to prepare," he said. "The little I can to strengthen Skyhold's defenses in what time remains. With your permission, Inquisitor?"

"Of course," Evin said. She looked down at herself, the form-fitting casual clothes she chose to wear for whatever unfathomable reason, and unpinned a metal brooch from her tunic.

She leaned closer to him, reaching for his collar. He felt the light touch of her fingers near his neck like a whisper. He held his breath, suddenly and acutely conscious of every one of his senses limited or no, and the heat of her body as she brushed against him. The seething Fen'edal, and the curve of her lips, and the subtle widening of her sunset eyes when she looked up at him.

"L'ordre de la Brèche, Grand-croix," she said, stepping back. "Awarded in absentia. No one who sees it will question you. There have been changes here... 'Solas'. Many of our old friends have scattered or returned home."

Of course that would be true. For them five years was a significant stretch. Once it had amused him to think of such things. Now it reminded him how curtailed their time really was, how quickly he must run just to keep up.

She descended the stairs to the Main Hall. He followed.

She had never asked if he would stay. He always did—in every branch.

In the Main Hall, the Inquisitor belonged to everyone else. A guard-captain in ringing mail caught her attention, then a courtier bearing a writing-slate, and then a runner hastened in from the rookery.

Fen'Harel searched the shadows for the two sentinels he knew to be waiting for him. Ilgarla reached him first.

She gave him one look, then made a small grimace of distaste. "You wish to linger."

"For now."

Arlasan's face remained impassive. "Dragon-sign to the north. The spirits flee in dread."

Fen'Harel scanned those nearest them for a reaction to this news, but of course no one here understood enough elven to take alarm. "Prepare yourselves, my friends. I ask much, but we must strive to save what we can."

"Insanity," Ilgarla said under her breath.

"The Fade sings of many battles in Tarasyl'an Te'las," Arlasan said. His voice was soft, barely audible. "I am honored to fight at your side."

"As am I," he replied. "There is a hollow beneath the sleeping riverbed—the Undercroft, they call it. Will you check if the obscurity sigil can be re-grounded? I trust your judgment."

Arlasan nodded; he swiftly departed.

The door to the Main Hall opened, startling their eyes with a flare of blinding sunlight. He looked away from it to find the Inquisitor standing not far from him, chatting with yet another member of her court.

He had a brief impression of movement—recognized danger and had a bare instant to stop himself retaliating, to get a partial barrier in place.

Pain exploded in his jaw.

"You sorry cur," Cullen Rutherford exclaimed. Grimacing, the man flexed his aching hand. "You have some nerve returning here."

"Fenedhis," he cursed. They were all lucky he hadn't killed anyone by accident. If the human touched him again—

"I will take your hand for this insult, quickling!" Ilgarla cried.

Fen'Harel barely had time to capture her arm, stop her from drawing her knives. The commander glowered but showed no intention of furthering the brawl.

The Inquisitor, of course, had witnessed everything. "Cullen, is your hand all right?" she exclaimed.

"Nothing that won't mend itself," the man replied.

Humans. Fen'Harel rubbed at his throbbing jaw, tested its movement. "Was that really necessary?"

"You know that better than I," Cullen said.

"Please be careful," Evin said. She was talking to the commander. "Did you recall the patrols? Solas said we should expect company."

"There's an extra shift at every post. We'll be ready. If this warning is correct."

"Any sign of the Chargers?" she asked.

"Not as yet," Cullen said. "I have other things to report. We should discuss it inside."

Cullen opened the door that led to the council chamber. Evin preceded him through it. Before she left, however, her eyes met Fen'Harel's. And for some reason he remembered her words in the Fade: I'll punish you later.

He was probably just imagining it.

He retreated to the garden to find ice for his jaw. Real ice that would not vanish as it melted, the better to channel healing magic. The garden was protected from the wind, however, and under the early spring sun there was not much ice to be found. He picked up a handful of fresh snow and shaped it into a compact lump, then sought out a place on a stone bench. Ilgarla had wandered off muttering—she needed to find her center before tomorrow morning, or she would not be able to fight. She was the youngest elvhen he knew of, hence her impatience was indulged as a marker of youth rather than scorned.

There were so few of them left. Every death was an incalculable loss. All that once was disappeared and would never return, and the unknowing world was diminished. He had seen too much destroyed.

He would spend their lives even so.

Why? Why did Evin ask this of him? He knew it was wrong.

The correct course was to coerce her into compliance and go. Any one of his brothers would have done so. How they would laugh at him now! He tolerated Evin's feelings for her people the same way Ilgarla's father tolerated her hasty temper—it was wrong to overlook such a self-defeating flaw. Did he really trust Evin's power and judgment so much? How many deaths did she foresee at the hands of those blighted monsters tomorrow?

Why did my death change? she'd asked him.

Did she even expect to survive—or would a glorious defeat serve the Inquisition equally well?

Why had the question even occurred to him? Perhaps the combination of several things she had said, examined in retrospect. Much the way events in hindsight appeared inevitable after the fact....

He did not want to overrule her decision, not unless her life was at stake. Surely she was not so cold-blooded. She had a young child. It was better to trust her, for now. Besides, it would be interesting to see her power in action.

But if defeat threatened—if the lives he spent failed to purchase victory—he would take her and vanish. He would hold back that much of his strength.

They would not take the Anchor from him. Nothing else mattered.

The snow pressed against his jaw had mostly melted. The dripping water fell from his fingers and soaked his tunic. As it melted the ache diminished, and the bruises that had barely formed faded away.

"I was going to ask if I could help, but I see you've managed all on your own. Nicely done, hahren."

Fen'Harel looked up. It was the runner from the rookery—no, not a runner. He was too finely dressed. Elvhen, male, a mage though he did not carry a stave.

"I wanted to introduce myself," the man said with an easy smile. "Lysander Lavellan. Aneth ara. I'm a huge fan."

Fen'Harel disliked him immediately.

Pale violet eyes, not quite the same shade as Evin's. A kinsman? Almost certainly not. And the markings on his face—not vallaslin. The absence of vallaslin. The markings of Sylaise were stark white, shocking against his tanned skin. Like a burn half healed over, though it would fade in time.

"Ah, yes, my face," the man said. His voice had a bare trace of a lilt. "Evin taught us how. It's more painful to remove the blood-writing yourself, but we prefer the symbolism. Why should anyone free us but ourselves?"

Fen'Harel shook his head. "I had not realized such a practice had spread among the Dalish."

Lysander shrugged. "Not among the Dalish, exactly. Mostly Clan Lavellan and one or two others. Evin is our Keeper now. Perhaps she could be more than that? Just a thought."

"I do not follow."

The man sat next to him on the bench. "Not all the clans agree with us. Some say removing the vallaslin is blasphemy. They seek to preserve the old ways—they don't care about the truth. Others point to the writings found in the Temple of Mythal. It's all clear if you read the texts. The Dalish swore long ago to oppose slavery. But some curse the Inquisition for heresy. If we're not careful, it could lead to war."

How typical. "A difficult situation. I sympathize. However, I am not Dalish."

"Of course." Lysander threaded his fingers together in thought. "Evin's been in a frenzy of activity for the last three days. I don't know for certain why you're here, but I worry. The Inquisitor's been invited to the Arlathvhen. Evin has to settle this question—she's the only one who can. If you care at all for our blood, please make sure she attends. Don't drag her off somewhere."

"I doubt I could influence her one way or the other."

Lysander glanced meaningfully at the children playing in the garden. "What an odd old elf you are. Revas isn't my son, whatever they say."

He followed the man's glance. Three children played among the bare trees—two elvhen, one with pale curls and a dirt-smudged face and an unholy shriek of glee. Fen'Harel felt the back of his neck prickle. He had come here without even admitting the reason to himself.

And this man knew the truth.

He had to die.

Chapter Text

He was appalled at himself, and the wind cut through his tunic, chilling him, for he had not thought to wear a cloak. He looked down from the north-east tower battlements to the vertiginous slope of the Frostbacks that surrounded him, the sunlight so nearly blinding on snow that his eyes instinctively sought the relief of shadow and stone. The stinging cold and the crisp, clean air and the glittering, quicksilver song of ancient wards, these for him were the things that signified Tarasyl'an Tel'as.

He had been a father for, oh, two hours? How quickly the mind sprang to atrocity—

He is a mage and a liar and he approached you, a voice whispered. Any two might be excused, but all three....

He had dismissed Lysander Lavellan with the usual misdirection.

"Perhaps I misunderstand the insinuation," he had said, "Evin has not acknowledged me as Revas' father, and I cannot claim the honor. I served the Inquisition by her side for years, but so did others of our blood. Many are now dead. I understand the appeal of speculation, but we never had that kind of relationship."

And Lysander had apologized so easily: Ara seran', hahren. I made an assumption based on rumors. Please think on the other things I mentioned. I won't trouble you further.

Fen'Harel was never one to follow rules he had no hand in creating, but he understood very well the stricture against gods begetting children. They were too helpless. Too... fragile.

The only way that Lavellan man would not be trouble was if he were dead or at the bottom of a pit.

And the Dalish! How utterly predictable they had twisted his gift to Evin into an excuse for stupid in-fighting. Perhaps the conflict would be useful? It would help him identify the ones he might save, the ones with sense like Evin, with courage to learn from their mistakes. If it came to war, those who survived would be stronger.

It was pointless to contemplate further. He had to prepare for tomorrow. What little could be done to anticipate the vengeance of an angry god....

He sought the deepest bowels of Skyhold, the windowless lower chambers near the walls, closest to the stone. This frequently required clambering over dusty stacks of barrels and heaps of sacks filled with grain. Families of squeaking mice fled at his approach. Whatever was necessary, he did it. At one point, squeezing behind narrow racks of bottled wine, he startled a man come to investigate the noise.

"You there, elf, what are you doing down here?" the human demanded.

He paused to let the light from the man's torch fall on him. "I have the Inquisitor's permission. I am working."

"Oh," the human said, confused. "Well, carry on. Don't break anything, mind, or the steward will have your head."

As Evin had foreseen, no one who recognized it questioned the insignia of l'ordre de la Brèche. To all the others, he was just another nameless laboring elf. He should be offended—but he could not help a wicked laugh.

Once the silence had returned, Fen'Harel sank deep into the complex woven song of the wards. Down he went, far below the floor on which he stood and the rubble beneath it, to a melody coiled about the delicate shapes of a much earlier layer of construction.

Only when the ward had strengthened to the level his remaining power permitted did he open his eyes.

He climbed the stairs from the storage room beneath the last tower, the one at the southernmost point of the keep. Fen'Harel felt deeply weary, and he could not even be certain his efforts would make any difference. Not to an aerial assault. Still, what other options were there? Better to have something ready, something he knew he could rely on, whose magic he understood. The events of tomorrow would come tomorrow, and he would respond as best he could. Now he needed rest.

The sun set early in the mountains, hidden by the western peaks, and when he reached the courtyard it was already softened by darkness. A figure he knew approached.

"Knight-Commander," he said, wary.

"Ser Solas," Cullen Rutherford said. Slight grimace—apologetic? "I owe you a drink."

That was unexpected. But he was too tired to think of an excuse. Besides, right now wine sounded wonderful. "That is an excellent idea, Commander."

They walked to the tavern together—neither said much, silently agreeing there was not much to be said. He was not certain why Cullen had changed his mind, or even what his objection had been in the first place. After all the years he had lived, Fen'Harel had learned not to inquire too closely into the actions of humans.

They were all of them, quite frankly, insane.

The tavern, the Herald's Rest, had a painted sign at the door: the Maker's Bride, crowned with rays of gold, bearing a figure shrouded in white. The artist had painted the Anchor on Evin's right hand instead of her left. Fen'Harel had never liked it. Besides the inaccuracy the overall effect was funereal. As though Andraste had snatched the Herald from the land of death. Trust the Maker to take credit for another god's work.

The tavern was occupied by a few other parties, mostly seated at tables. Cullen found a place open at the bar and they sat down. The light of the candles was golden, the muted conversation around them soft and reassuring. The minstrel sang something about the sea. When their drinks were served they drank in silence. Fen'Harel wondered about his sentinels and how long he must wait before he could excuse himself. He felt very tired.

"Looks like you've had a rough day of it. Wrestling spiders or some such," Cullen said.

He looked down at his garments, smeared with dust of ages past and a number of trailing webs. He had not thought to activate a cleansing cantrip. To be honest he preferred to conserve the mana.

"I have never objected to spiders," he replied. "We get along quite well."

"As long as you don't try to introduce me to any," the Commander said.

Fen'Harel sipped at the terrible wine. Before he could stop the man, Cullen ordered another round. Someone he did not know very well hailed them and took the seat to their right—Summerland? Sunderland? He was about to finish his cup when he heard the tromp and stomp of hobnailed boots. He looked over his shoulder and saw a tall, thick-set beast of a human.

"Well if it isn't sodding Solas the prodigal elf. Just couldn't stay away, could you? Sorry bastard." Blackwall slammed down a full tankard which sloshed its beard of foam on the bar. "I'm joking. Almost forgot you existed. Went to Nevarra last year with Dorian. Camping in tents, the whole bit, and the entire time it was like something was missing. Couldn't quite put my finger on it. Then Dorian says, out of the blue he says, 'The Veil is very wibbly here' and we all busted out laughing. Suddenly lacked your cheery presence. Not enough to track you down, but still."

Rainier, who called himself Blackwall, had a bit more gray at his temples, a new furrow in his brow. And Dorian—was the Tevinter here as well? Fen'Harel suddenly felt overwhelmed by the immediacy of his memories, of people who remembered him back. To them he was a companion and friend. Perhaps not a greatly beloved one, but a friend nonetheless. Not a distant figure of reverence. A person.

"Tell us something about the Fade," Sutherland said, after a few more rounds. "I always wanted to hear one of your stories."

"In the Fade," Fen'Harel said, lifting his goblet, "I often witnessed the drunken routs of humans with their watered beer, a sight to make dwarves wail and wardens flinch."

"I knew it," Blackwall said, his words almost a slur. "I knew it."

"This is not real wine," Fen'Harel said. "If you knew what real wine tasted like you would weep to remember it, the dream of grapes captured in sunlight and terroir. This wine is arse."

"Get this man some aggregio," someone called.

He drank from the cup set before him obligingly. "No actually, this is real wine."

He left to find the necessary before they could press on him another drink, and when he had finished he slipped out by a side door. Inside, the boisterous noise continued. Outside, under the bare stars, in the chill air, he closed his eyes a moment. When he opened them the effect of alcohol was gone.

Arlasan stood before him as though he had been patiently awaiting his elder for years.

"You might have joined us, my friend," Fen'Harel said.

The sentinel performed a simple obeisance, the grace of a much earlier era. Fen'Harel returned it automatically.

"The obscurity rune is renewed," Arlasan said.

Perhaps the rune was what had given them—would give them?—so many hours to prepare. Wings of silver, wings of green. God of rebels, quickling queen....

"That is well done," he said.

"Ilgarla goes to the outlying towers across the lake," Arlasan said. "She fixes the lines to warn us and will return after moonset. She wishes me to ask you: What shall we do if the Awakened One has taken wings? It is her right."

"The Awakened One is mine. Do not touch her. The servants are irrelevant—kill them if you must, if it will save lives. You have my permission to use all weapons."

"What if the Inquisitor seeks to fight? What would you have us do?"

"Save as many lives as you can. Defend the Anchor. Defend Terasyl'an Tel'as. If the wards fail I will take Inquisitor Lavellan and retreat. Should that happen, recall Ilgarla and depart. We will meet at Hellathen Viran."

"I will tell her," Arlasan said.

He made certain Arlasan knew where he might retire to rest, then returned to the Main Hall.

He climbed the steps to Evin's chamber. Who would try to stop him? He was a Knight of the Breach, or a servant about his business, or a man visiting his lover, or a god seeking his talisman. He had every right in the world to go where he wished.

The fire was lit but there was no one in Evin's chamber. He lit another lamp and paced for a while, suddenly restless. Where had she been all this time? Three steps from the fireplace to the bookshelves, then back. On one of the rounds he happened to glance down at Evin's desk, and his eye caught one of the papers scattered there.

On the State of the Elves.

It was written in Evin's own hand. He picked it up, began to skim through it, then looked at the desk again. There were others:

Letter to the Circle of Magi in Cumberland.

The Controversy of Mythal.

On Rifts.

Letter to the Orlesian Astronomical Society on the Subdivision of the Hours.

They were all in a state of completion, written in a concise hand, yet seemed freshly composed, for the date at the top was recent. There were no signs of composition as one might expect to find at an author's escritoire, no scribbles or rephrasing or margin notes. Just a few misspellings.

He gathered a number of the papers and sat on the bed, shuffling through them as he read. After a little while, without his willing it, his eyes closed.

Despite his fatigue he nearly awoke from the Dream an hour later when he heard her enter the room, detecting her scent of sweet amber and magnolia. But she did not rouse him, and though he felt the shift of the mattress as she climbed in, he did not open his eyes.

He was suddenly very intensely awake.

His thoughts were not clear. For a confusing moment he wanted to pin her to the bed, feel her body move beneath his. Foolishness. He had no right—could not expect—

What a delicious pain to know she lay near enough to touch. He ached....

But when he rolled onto his side, he saw Revas curled beside her. So he did the next best thing. He put his arm around them both, his child and the mother of his child, and fell once more into Dreams.

Chapter Text

Evin Lavellan strode through the door to the ambassador's reception room, Cullen Rutherford half a step behind. There was no one else present—Yvette had already left. The War Council would begin shortly. When the door closed behind them she quickly accessed the Fade, checking against what she already knew, searching the lines of possibility with the Mark.

A wave of silver, white-edged, crashed over her. Her senses spun. She almost fell.

Confusion—two selves overlapped by moments. She'd been sick in this very room—the sharp taste of bile—Cullen caught her as he was doing now—some vision of nearer hours so terrible it made her retch. But it eluded her here.

Her other self had seen something. Desperate, harrowing.

"Evin, what is it? Sit a moment," Cullen said.

The Mark didn't reveal thoughts. It gave words, actions, images. A different Evin had caught a glimpse of disaster but whatever it was remained in that path. She didn't see it.

The dizziness began to fade. Cullen released her arm, she sank into one of the carved chairs before the fireplace.

"A little tired," she said. Her voice sounded weaker than she expected.

"You were up all night working on the Nevarran Accord. Don't lie," Cullen said.

"It needed to be done."

"It could have waited," he said.

The others never understood how little time there was, how precisely some events had to unfold. Sometimes the optimal outcome meant hours, not days. Time mattered, and now another self had seen something she did not.

The tree of her life stretched before her in the Fade, the twisting forks she interpreted as crisis and decision. Half the branches ended in her death. That was nothing new. But three days ago she'd begun to see the other branches crowned in silver flame. Crowned, consumed, and terminated: a new death. That was when she'd seen Solas' face again in the glimpses of her future.

The Dread Wolf. What would a god fear but another god? You always knew he had a secret....

What happened to these other selves, the ones who saw what she did not? When she searched she couldn't find them. How could something so important escape her? How long before the living flame consumed her, too?

She'd always avoided the dead branches. If she'd missed something, perhaps it was there. Maybe the very act of seeing this doom, whatever it was, made it inevitable. And then everything ended—in fire.

If that was true, she was blind and lucky. Not a happy combination. She had to stick to the safe path as long as she could. She didn't dare look too far ahead lest she see what the others had. It was the worst way to go into a battle: operating on memories of what she'd already seen, stale probabilities. But there was so little time.

"We shouldn't be late for the War Council," she said.

"Do you really think they'd start without you?" Cullen asked.

The story she'd decided in the Fade sprang to her lips. It would be more favorable to discuss it with him now.

"Solas expects an attack tomorrow morning," she said.

"So that's the reason you closed the gate," Cullen said. "What sort of attack?"

"He didn't specify," Evin said, truth and not-truth and lies. "He said something about tremors in the Beyond. Dark wings."

Cullen's armor jingled as he sank into the opposite chair. "That's just wonderful. What does it even mean?"

"I was hoping you'd have some idea. Maybe it's an anagram? 'Mad ruined wasteland....'"

"A high dragon?" Cullen suggested. "There are no recent reports of a rampage. You couldn't get more out of him than 'dark wings'?"

"The information came at a price. It seems he journeyed here to warn us at some risk to himself. His companions are elvhen, ancients from the Temple of Mythal."

"Dragons and ancient elves? That does sound like Solas," Cullen said. "It's unfortunate so many of our forces are on the Nevarran-Tevinter border. Most of the mages here are healers. Little use against a dragon."

She nodded, she'd thought of that as well. "Solas intends to spend the rest of the day restructuring the wards around Skyhold. I didn't really understand the details."

"I suppose we don't have any reason to doubt him," Cullen said, considering. "He was a loyal friend to the Inquisition before."

"I hope you tell him that when you apologize for punching him in the face," Evin said.

Cullen cleared his throat. "Yes, well—"

"Do you and Solas have a problem?" she asked, because it was the best way to make sure they didn't. Whatever was going to happen with her, she didn't want them to quarrel. Cullen meant too much to her for that.

The knight-commander's eyes went to the closed door as if he could imagine a dour, bald elf standing behind it. "After what he did? Are you telling me you don't mind?"

"If I'm not offended I don't see why you should be. Unless there's a story I haven't heard yet."

Cullen scowled. "Someone has to look out for you."

She felt a spark of anger. "Why, because you're human and you know what's best for everyone?"

"Race has nothing to do with it. He shouldn't have left when he did, the way he did. It wasn't right. Have you honestly forgiven him?"

He'd chosen this branch. He was going to force her to spell it out. She swallowed back her anger. "What am I meant to forgive, exactly?"

"You forget, I was with you when Revas was born. I was there. I heard the name you screamed." He looked down at his hands—strong warrior's hands, calloused and acid-scored from some long ago battle with a mage. "Your face was almost gray. He's lucky you're both in good health or I wouldn't have stopped at one blow. If you were my sister—."

I wish my brother was anything like you, she thought.

He'd given up lyrium years before. He hadn't sensed the swift and deadly contraction of mana, the killing blow just as swiftly restrained.

She drew a deep breath. "I don't want my friends to fight each other, and I don't need you to defend me. Promise this won't continue."

"Promise you'll be honest about your feelings," Cullen returned. "If you're angry at him, yell. Maker knows he deserves it."

It was such a strange idea she almost smiled. Of course Cullen didn't understand. From his perspective Revas was born a mere three years ago. To untangle the weaving threads, to construct the crystalline apparatus and learn everything necessary, had taken more than years. Her companions only lived objective time. They didn't have the advantage of distance in the Fade.

Traitors and tricksters and Creators. Fen'Harel. The name had passed his lips mere hours before, but for her it was already some days in the past.

Sometimes it was difficult to remember what she should feel. It was more important to do what needed to be done.

"Let me be the judge, Cullen," she said finally. "Don't decide for me."

He smiled at her, a little sad. "As you say, my lady Inquisitor."

"And now we really are late," she said.

When she and Cullen entered the War Council chamber Yvette Montilyet jerked to her feet. Parethia Norn, a slim human with a crown of pale braids, made a short bow. Yvette and Parethia were surrounded by a half-circle of correspondence spread out on the wide expanse of the war table. The two exchanged glances, thick as thieves. Lysander wasn't present. Where had he run off to?

"Yvette. Seeker Norn," Evin said, greeting them.

"What news?" Cullen asked.

Yvette fumbled with a curling ribbon of raven-scrap. "My sister Josephine sends word from the capital." She faltered a little. "It is not good."

Parethia folded her arms across the symbol of the All-Seeing Eye on her chest. "The measure to permit elves to own and inherit land in Orlais has failed," she said. "The Privy Council refused to recommend it to her Majesty Celene."

Yvette cleared her throat nervously. "This means elves and other non-humans will remain ineligible to train as chevaliers or obtain recommendations from the Council of Heralds. The traditional path to nobility is barred to them. In addition, my sister notes the measure stirred a great deal of rancor among the traditionalist nobles. She thinks it unlikely we will be able to reintroduce it for a generation. Politically speaking, the proposal is dead."

Evin leaned over the table, gazed down at her hands. Her fingers framed the region between the Dales and the Gamordan Peaks on the map. The humans were all staring at her, wondering how she would react.

"We are very sorry," Yvette said.

What emotion did they expect her to express? Resentment? Sadness?

"It's not entirely unexpected," she said carefully. "It was a somewhat selfish request. I'm grateful for all you did to help."

Parethia slammed her fist down on the table. "Damn it all! The Maker sent you as our Herald and they still can't see—"

"Please," Evin said.

"The Inquisition fought for what's right," Cullen said, "and everyone knows it."

"That is true, and it has been noted by others," Yvette said. "We've been able to approach several leaders among the surface dwarves who resisted us previously. And there is another matter. Empress Celene sends her personal seal."

Yvette picked up a thick scroll marked with ribbons and a weighty wax insignia and centered it on the war table before them. A flare of elation quickened in Evin's heart.

This must be it. It's finally here.

"The Empress, perhaps in an attempt to assure you of her continued friendship, has personally created you duchesse of Verchiel."

"Duchesse? Did the Empress not notice I'm an elf?"

"We believe she is aware," Yvette said.

Evin clenched her hands to hide her excitement. It had finally happened.

Verchiel. The Exalted Plains. Dirthavaren.

With this I can save the elves.

Chapter Text

The smaller half-door to the War Council swung open and Lysander Lavellan strolled inside. When his eyes caught the ribboned scroll in the center of the war table he grinned.

"Ah, the missive from the Empress," he said. "Anyone else want tea?"

"You've already seen it?" Evin Lavellan asked.

"It's my job to know things, my dear duchesse," Lysander said. He picked up the tea kettle at the fireplace and sketched an ironical half-bow in her direction.

Yvette scurried over with empty cups for herself and Parethia. Cullen didn't look up from his correspondence. He was reading through the troop updates from Nevarra.

It was early afternoon in Skyhold and they had much to discuss. Dust swirled like flecks of gold in the warm columns of sunlight from the narrow windows. Letters, message scrolls, and metal troop markers littered the long wooden slab of the council table. They'd hardly gone through any of it and they still had the defense of Skyhold to consider. In the Fade she'd planned out everything, carefully allotted the hours until morning. But it was always possible to make a mistake. She couldn't rush anything, not here.

Parethia Norn picked up the scroll from the Empress and scanned the lines of text. "In recognition of the great friendship between the Herald and the nation of Orlais, blah blah blah, the Empress recognizes you, Inquisitor Lavellan, as duchesse of Verchiel to include the Exalted Plains. She dates the creation to 9:42 Dragon, the year the Inquisition sealed the Breach. The Empress hopes this dignity will be the basis for continued amicable relations and so forth, blah blah.... Your holdings aren't quite as extensive as Gaspard's, but I suppose that's expected."

Lysander placed a steaming teacup and saucer on the table before Evin. "The Empress raised her pet spymaster to Marquise of the Dales, after all," he said. "She didn't want you to feel left out."

The Empress had made quiet overtures before, but Evin had always refused. It had to be Dirthavaren. The Promise, or nothing.

"In her letter Josephine observes Marquise Briala has no children," Yvette said. "Nor is she likely to produce any... for various reasons. Most assume her title will lapse. Who better to represent the face of elven nobility in Orlais than the descendants of the Herald of Andraste herself?"

Parethia rolled up the scroll and tapped it lightly on the table. "The nobles killed the proposal for elven parity. Won't they object to this?"

Evin carefully sipped at her tea. "The traditionalists have difficulty picturing elves as anything other than servants, savages, and painted whores," she said, ignoring the sudden choking noise from Cullen. "The Inquisitor is something else entirely. Half the time they forget my ears are pointed."

Parethia made a disgusted sound. "That's outrageous. There are many very reputable elves—"

"Verchiel is overrated if you ask me," Lysander cut in. "Weren't most of the Plains destroyed during the War of the Lions?"

"The city itself is intact," Yvette said hastily. "The looting was very minimal. I hear it is delightful in the spring."

"The Empress probably hopes we'll fund the reconstruction ourselves," Lysander added drily.

"Or her Majesty may wish to secure an independent financial base for the Inquisition," Yvette said. "Unless, that is, you refuse the honor, Inquisitor. Josie says the letters patent are somewhat unusual and do not mention a personal oath of loyalty. Of course, in that case you would not be eligible to serve at Privy Council."

"You do intend to accept?" Cullen asked, looking up from his letters.

"Of course she will," Parethia said.

Lysander leaned against the wall, framed by two windows. He didn't comment, but his eyes glinted with amusement.

You could order Halamshiral returned to the Dalish, if you wished. But ultimately, you know that would fail. That even you cannot solve this. I simply see no way to help the elves, oppressed as they are now.

Words from a conversation that had never happened, witnessed only in the Fade. A branch where Solas had explained the limits of power to an Inquisitor he hated. It was deeply satisfying to remember now.

I found what you could not, Dread Wolf.


If only there weren't a Trickster God sowing chaos across the visible future. What was it she couldn't see? Something he intended to do? His enemy?

It was deeply frustrating, a tension that knotted in her stomach. She needed more time. If she died, if they lost Skyhold, everything fell apart. But Fen'Harel would sacrifice every piece on the board for victory. His pawn. His queen. His oldest friend.

Evin twisted her teacup on its saucer. "It's not every day a duchy falls in one's lap," she said. "I'm not familiar with the etiquette. Is a thank you note appropriate?"

"Josephine sent explicit instructions from Val Royeaux," Yvette assured her. "She will prepare the response to the Empress as soon as a raven can be sent."

"The celebration can wait," Cullen said. "We ought to discuss Skyhold. This latest news from Solas—"

They spent the remaining afternoon in discussion, debating the scale drawing of Skyhold pinned to the war table. Scenario and resource and response. And how much might be attributed to a training exercise if by some miracle nothing happened.

At vespers they finally adjourned—Cullen and Parethia departed to issue orders, Yvette hurried to the rookery with her notes, and Evin left to find Revas in the Main Hall. He was seated next to Bettina at the first table, making an elaborate mess of his stew.

She returned several greetings and took her place beside them. Revas wanted to sit with her after a few moments, so she pulled him into her lap. He immediately reached for her silverware.

"Do you like my spoons better, ma'len?" she teased.

"Ir 'anaras," he said.

"Ir ranaras," she said, correcting him automatically, and then wondered what the word even meant.

Elven was a slippery language. It had a way of catching in your head without your thinking about it—words you didn't remember knowing but somehow spoke when you were angry or distracted. Maybe Solas had said it once.

"I blame your father," she told Revas, nodding her head solemnly. And he nodded happily back.

Arlavir was more than just land.

After supper it was time for Revas to take his bath. She didn't always have time for that, so it was better for him that Bettina managed it. Even today, when every moment she had to spend with him was precious, when the hours burned like tinder and the sunlight was almost gone. She didn't know what the morning would bring, but she could almost feel the silver flame against her skin. She didn't dare check in the Fade.

She hugged Revas goodbye and promised to collect him when she went to bed. As she tread the stairs to the scriptorium Lysander fell in with her.

"Do you have a moment, Inquisitor?"

Today she had nothing but moments. "Of course, lethallin."

Lysander steered her into the west alcove. There was a door that led from the rotunda out to the courtyard walkway, but the scribes never used it. It let in too much cold.

"News from the Divine?" she asked.

Lysander gave her one of his close-lipped smiles—he had pretty white teeth but he usually kept them hidden. His smile was more in the way his eyes narrowed, his mouth widened.

"Congratulations on your duchy, lethallan," he said. "The land issue was defeated by three votes. I finally understand why you told the Divine not to bribe Montsimmard's party."

"Bribe the richest nobles in Orlais?" she asked. "The Inquisition has better uses for its money."

"You knew Celene would act to mollify you when it failed."

"Should I be flattered?" Evin asked. "There's no way I could have known in advance. I'm sure her people will tell you the same. Ask your spies."

Lysander laughed softly at her. "You knew this would happen."

He could be so infuriating sometimes. She shook her head in disgust. "You think I care about some human title? That I made an arrangement? Don't insult me, lethallin. Their lords hunted us like rabbits in Ostwick."

"I don't accuse you of greed," he said. "Not at all. But it can't have escaped you that failing to change the law has strengthened it. Elves will never enter the nobility in Orlais—aside from astonishing stars like yourself."

He was right about that. With the Inquisitor as an example, elves might have gained some status on the lower rungs... eventually. Pets and favourites of the royal court. Actors and mistresses. The lucky ones. The "good ones". Well, that wasn't a terrible future in itself—there were worse things that could happen. But it wasn't what she wanted as her legacy.

Like Solas, who had painted his frescos in whole cloth. She worked on a wider canvas.

"That wasn't my objective," she said.

Lysander closed his eyes. In the flickering yellow light the lines of his vanished vallaslin seemed to disappear and renew in an unsettling cycle. "I can almost see it," he murmured, opening his eyes. "You think you've been clever. But I tested you. I know your secret."

She found herself smiling—what a bizarre conversation—surely they would laugh all this off in a minute. "Don't be strange, Lysander."

"The Creators want you to save our People. That's what you've been doing. You're a prophet."

Was I lucky or blind?

How did he know? What had given her away?

She froze time to give herself space to recover. To think. But when she returned her heart was still racing, her hands cold as winter:

"That's impossible, lethallin. Only humans can be prophets, I read it in a book."

"The Canticle of Light?" he asked, and laughed.

Chapter Text

Evin Lavellan raced up the smooth gray steps to her sanctuary in the Fade. The pair of tall, wrought doors swung open at a thought. She swept past without really seeing them, intent on reaching the Vianaris. Time wasn't a factor here but sheer urgency drove her forward, up to the viewing chamber where she'd spent so many careful hours. And now she was blind—and Lysander threatened to ruin everything.

"Guile!" she called.

She reached the flat gray terrace and walked a few steps further inside, closer to the shore where a whispering black sea receded into the greenish-yellow horizon. The Vianaris around her was empty, the crystals dormant. She didn't dare activate it.

Guile! She formed the word into a call with her will and cast it out into the Fade.


She didn't sense his presence, and she'd often come here to analyze and discuss the things she'd seen with him. The creature preferred the form of a gray mountain lynx, with unblinking tawny eyes that stared deep into the boundless probabilities she coaxed from the Fade.

Evin sighed. She hadn't seen Guile since Fen'Harel had driven him away. Had the Dread Wolf banished him somehow? What sort of powers did a god have, anyway? And couldn't he have at least asked first?

In the living world Lysander had called her a prophet. He'd laughed and said the Creators were guiding her. She wished it was true! If only she had someone to rely on, a person to share this burden. As crazy as it was to think of now, a Creator really had counseled her during those dangerous early years. But he'd walked away when she'd needed him most.

You'd have to be the world's biggest fool to trust the God of Traitors... twice.

She felt angry at herself for even considering—and frightened—and desperate enough to call on the advice of a creature more demon than spirit.

With one message, one proclamation, Lysander could make her a prophet. Just like Andraste—the woman who'd led the elves out of slavery and into ten brutal ages of poverty, ignorance, and suffering. Eking out a living under the dominion of humans in the alienages. Driven further and further from the edges of civilization like the wandering clans. Murdered outright like her father's people or the Sabrae. That was the world Revas would inherit. That was the world she had to change.

Lysander can't tell anyone. Or the rising dynamic will fail and the Exalted Plains will burn. It has to be certain.

"Evin?" a hesitant voice asked.

She whipped around.

A slight, narrow-shouldered figure appeared at the top of the stair, growing ever more human in shape the nearer it came. A young man in a tall, ridiculous peaked hat with the brim pulled down almost over his eyes. Light skin, hair of straw, clothes like an afterthought or a scarecrow. A tiny blue will-o-the-wisp bobbed leisurely behind him.

She inhaled a sharp breath. "Cole? You came back."

"You needed me," he said. Quiet, matter-of-fact.

"I guess I did." She hurriedly brushed at the tears that had somehow formed in her eyes. "Look, you made a new friend."

She sent a curious thought at the wisp that drifted behind him, a small glowing ball of nascent intention. The wisp jerked angrily and sketched an erratic curve away.

"Sorry," she told it, smiling.

The wisp's glow pulsed a moment—apology accepted. It swung round again, spinning placidly in the space between them, humming a little to itself.

"It likes to follow me," Cole said. "It doesn't hurt anything."

"I'm glad you're here," she said.

Cole's eyes flickered—observing the wisp and the dormant crystals, the water that lapped softly at the terrace stones. "The lock rattled but the key didn't turn," he explained. "You opened the door and the barrier broke. You shouldn't ask cunning."

"What else can I do?" she asked. "Give up? You know I can't."

"The Fade isn't a place for certainties," he said.

"But how can I just... guess? I never would have dared to attempt any of this if I wasn't sure. I have to know." Her eyes dropped—she stared at her fingers, twisting them. "Lysander is my lethallin and more. He's also a devious knave. What if he and Briala decide I'm the perfect figurehead to launch their doomed rebellion?"

"I... don't know," Cole said. "They cut his heart in two and hid one of the pieces. He couldn't find it. He likes to know things."

"A valuable trait in a spymaster," she said.

"Yes, but he likes knowing more than telling. They used to feed him secrets at the school."

"Secrets," she repeated. "Vanity. A confidence shared only with him."

Was that what Lysander really wanted—what motivated him? She couldn't afford a misstep.

And she began to wonder, when the Dread Wolf looked at her, what it was he saw. What did he want? The Anchor? Her body? Both, in one convenient package? Solas had never asked, never refused. Fen'Harel would take whatever she offered and sacrifice it on the altar of necessity. The only bright thing she'd had in those dark days, and for him it was a burden he didn't want. A distraction, like the kiss he stole from her.

I always knew he had a secret.

She dug her nails into her palms. "Thank you, Cole. That was helpful."

Cole's pale eyes gazed at the horizon over the sea. The wisp bobbed lazily behind him. "Eternity that shattered when the monstrous error died. Vhenan I left upon the stair, except I never leave. A falling star I reach to grasp, adore, and savor. Soft lips I taste, soft breasts I—" He stopped, puzzled. "I didn't catch the rest."

Her heart was pounding—her face flushed with embarrassment. "Don't worry about it."

"You wouldn't really be happier," he said. "It only feels that way."

"No. Too much has happened, and it's all important." She cocked her head. "I'm going back. Come with me?"

Chapter Text

Evin Lavellan eased from the trance of the Dream and shivered, picking up the thread of conversation where she'd left it. Lysander named the Canticle and laughed.

The Creators want you to save our People. You're a prophet.

Another dilemma in a day packed full of them, another obstacle to bridge. She had to figure out what her clansman intended to do with his knowledge. He had to be persuaded—and if she couldn't do that, he had to be stopped. Somehow.

Vanity was the weapon compassion gave her, secrets were her shield. She was the Inquisitor. She would do what needed to be done.

"Half Thedas thinks I belong to some god, if not a god myself. Funny, I never took you for a believer," Evin told him.

Lysander's lip curled in amusement or disdain. In the dim light his hair was the color of etched steel, shaved back on one side with a warrior's braid. "I know the truth."

She pulled at the latch on the door, looked at him over her shoulder. "Let's go out."

She didn't have time to stand around.

Lysander grimaced with annoyance, but he followed. The alcove stood just off the main floor of the rotunda, converted to a scriptorium when Solas had left. They passed through the west door, out to the stone walkway that bridged the courtyard. It was the second hour of vespers and the sun had already set. The slightest breath of purple warmed the horizon between the gate towers. The air was too cold for her clothes.

Despite the darkness their path was well lit. A pale bluish wisp bobbed companionably beside her.

"That's unusual for you," Lysander said, nodding at it.

"A friend of a friend," she said. "I think it wants to be helpful."

"You don't even have a coat," he muttered. He still sounded irritated. Unpinning his cloak, he shook out the cloth to loosen its folds, then drew it around her shoulders.

She caught the edges of the fabric and held them while he pinned it in place. His warm fingers brushed hers, then his hands dropped to his sides.

It made her feel sad for a moment. I wish I could just trust you, lethallin.

The courtyard below them was quiet, the forge silent, the shops shuttered. The warm gleaming of candles and magefire escaped from tiny windows that studded the shadows. From the kitchens to the south came the aroma of roasting meat and toasting bread. The people of the Inquisition were still enjoying their evening meal, their period of rest. Ravens cawed and soared in the darkness, wings sweeping toward the rookery in the atrium above them. On the outer walls the sentries and guards were at a heightened state of alert, if you knew what to look for.

This was Skyhold. These were the people who believed in her.

She started for the Commander's guard tower at the other end of the walkway.

"Tell me about your interesting theory," she said.

Lysander fell in beside her, matching her easy pace. "Give me some credit," he said. "I tested you."

Then she'd given herself away. Was it possible others guessed? "Tested what?"

"Little things at first," Lysander said—oh, the smugness. "But you were too clever for that, or maybe small things aren't as easy to foresee. When the trade concordat came from Orzammar I switched the reply. The original draft contained a cultural faux pas—it would have enraged the Shaperate. But you stopped it. Made an excuse to halt the messenger. You knew."

That had been six months ago. He'd known that long?

If he told anyone—they would believe him. So many in Thedas hungered to believe in her powers. They thought her half divine, sent to a troubled world by a god who loved them. The idea that an elf-woman with a patchwork group of companions had sealed the Breach was too random, too frightening. It was like the Revered Mother said: they needed a greater explanation. They needed to believe. She was their symbol.

Vanity, she remembered.

"You always were," she said, "the cleverest man."

A bare hint of a smile—his violet eyes gleamed in the wisp's pale light. "You flatter me, lethallan."

"You should be. Not even Leliana guessed."

"Then you admit it?"

"I have some power because of the Mark. That's all it is. I'm no prophet."

And I sent Leliana away before her suspicions grew.

They stopped walking, turned to face each other.

For a moment Lysander's face was half in shadow, half in light. The traces of his removed vallaslin were both stark and invisible. Then he looked away. "Oh, you must have your reasons for secrecy. Maybe the Creators don't want you to tell anyone. Maybe you're waiting for the right moment. The Inquisition uses rumors, but not you. You've tried to remain a political figure. You don't make claims about gods or the Maker."

"The Maker abandoned the world," she told him. "If the Creators still exist they probably hate us. Do you really think I speak for them?"

"There is no doubt in my mind," Lysander said. "You revealed the Temple of Mythal. You sealed the Breach. No mortal could have done all that alone. But I don't think the Maker saved your life. The focus that spawned the Breach, the artifact that created your Mark—it was elven magic."

He approached a fact not even she had known until today. She'd wanted so desperately to believe the vision of Mythal's death was a conjuring of the Fade, a false dream. But it was true. The orb Corypheus used to cleave open the sky had belonged to Fen'Harel. Lysander was perilously close to a truth no one could ever know.

Fen'Harel was responsible. And Revas was his son.

"Corypheus had the orb in his possession," she said. "A Tevinter abhorration. We'll never know how he acquired it. The Anchor came to me as an accident. And the orb is nothing but fragments now."

"I—never heard that," he said. "You saw the pieces with your own eyes, lethallan?"

Was this one of the secrets he wanted? She gazed at him, considering. "We recovered the remnants of the orb after Corypheus was defeated. Dagna has them in a storage room somewhere. It didn't seem like the sort of thing you throw away."

Not when she'd seen the stricken expression on Solas' face as he cradled the broken shards in his hands. Not when she'd realized those were the last words they'd shared.

"A tragic loss," Lysander said.

She had to make him understand. He cared for the People, the same as she did. It was everything they'd worked for...

"You can't tell anyone, lethallin," she insisted. "Not many realize the connection between Corypheus and our People. But if you spread whispers among them about Mythal or the old gods—they will."

"'Kill the knife-ears, they created the Breach'?"

"That wouldn't happen until later," she said. "First you'd start a religious war."

His gaze lifted to meet hers. "You've... seen this," he said slowly.

"Pointless killing and no one would win. Our People would be slaughtered."

"That sounds bad," he said. "It seems you've given this some thought."

She breathed a sharp sigh. "Well, the next thing you know I'd be at the head of an army invading Tevinter."

"Oddly enough you have an army near Tevinter right now."

"I know. Convenient, right?" she said.

"I suppose that would be the logical next step," he said, frowning. "Free the slaves! and all that."

"And we know how that turns out."

"Murder and betrayal, followed by burning at the stake?" Lysander asked. "Shemlen aren't gentle with their saviors."

Not that she hadn't thought about it long and hard. She'd tried to find a way. But she didn't have enough years, and suspected she lacked the wisdom. She had to choose the battles she could win—just as Solas had told her years ago. Dirthavaren, not Tevinter.

Emancipation is a losing game. We already have a generation of mages more comfortable with prison than liberty. I can't free the slaves myself. I can only foster conditions to help them free themselves.

"I'm glad you told me," she said. "Do you see why—"

"I'll keep your secret," Lysander cut in. "The Keeper of Clan Lavellan and her loyal First."

"Then you won't tell Briala or the others?"

Lysander smirked. "You could have me thrown in prison, you know. Executed—hurled from a tower or something. You could say whatever you wanted, my dear Inquisitor. No one would doubt you."

"When did I give you the impression I was that kind of ruler?" she asked.

"It's a bad flaw," he said quietly. "But I think I'll hold my tongue. A secret known to two people is hardly a secret at all. I like knowing this about you. I like you knowing that I know."

And he reached out and smoothed back a lock of her hair, and then he folded his arms around her so naturally she relaxed into his warmth. But only for a moment.

She carefully didn't look up at him—just in case—and took a step back.

"Tall, Bald, and Grumpy arrives and suddenly I'm not good enough," he observed.

"It's not about him," she said. "I told you it probably wouldn't happen again."


"You don't even like me that much," she said, laughing.

"Hmm, but I feel responsible for you," he said. "Come up to my room tonight. We could talk more. About the future."

"No promises," she said.

Lysander made a little humming laugh, his eyes softened with amusement. "There's a rumor going around about a big fight tomorrow. Sounds dangerous—I intend to hide in the basement."

"A solid plan."

Together they climbed the steps to the Commander's tower. The will-o-the-wisp floated lazily a step or two behind them. Cullen Rutherford was already off duty—one of his lieutenants greeted her inside. She and Lysander crossed over the bridge walkway into the northern gate tower. Inside she found what she wanted—a supply chest and a cabinet stocked with an assortment of weapons.

"Ah... if you need a mage's staff we can send someone to the armory for you, Inquisitor," one of the warriors said.

"This one's fine," she said.

She collected a handful of healing potions and a vial of lyrium, shoved them in a pocket of Lysander's cloak.

"Expecting trouble?" Lysander asked.

"Nine-tenths of good fortune is careful preparation," she replied.

Lysander followed her, somewhat bemused, as she deposited the staff in a corner below the northwest watchtower. The lyrium vial went into a crevice three steps from the top of the stair. The healing potions found a variety of homes: Some she placed on a barrel south of the Mages' Circle. For the others she backtracked to a ledge near the southern watchtower. None of the sentries they passed asked what they were doing—it was one of the perks of being Inquisitor.

"I'm starting to feel nervous," Lysander said.

Her fingers were ice-cold. She squeezed her hands to try to warm them. "Lethallin, if something happens tomorrow please take Revas and go."

"Take him? What are you talking about?"

"I don't want him to grow up surrounded by humans who only care about a duchy. Take him to the Ralaferins, to Elindra."

"I'm not the person you should say that to," he said slowly.

"If something happens," she repeated.

"Do you have a particular reason to tell me this, Herald?"

There was a tightness in her chest. It was suddenly difficult to speak, like the fear of burning alive was choking her. She didn't want to stop time because then she would think about it, think about Revas in this world without her, and it was too much to bear. She had to rush through. "It's—it's possible," she said. "I've seen something. I don't know what it means, and I can't see beyond it."

"Then you should run," he said unusual vehemence.

"That won't—. It doesn't help."

"How reassuring," Lysander muttered. "You surprise me, lethallan."

"It surprises you to know I'm afraid?"

A corner of his mouth lifted in a half-smile. "You should value your fear. The other side of fear isn't courage—its opposite—but unreasoning terror. Fear is the emotion of those who would protect. When it speaks, fear shows us how to survive. It tells the rabbit when to run and when to hide."

"And if the rabbit has to fight?"

"That's when fear teaches us which things are important enough to defend with our lives. At least, that's what Keeper Istorel used to say. I wish I could help you, lethallan. But if anything happened to you I'd already be dead at your feet."

"That's a cheery thought. Weren't you going to hide in the basement?"

"I didn't say I'd be there alone."

A runner came to summon Lysander to the rookery. Evin checked on the preparations for the morrow with the acting lieutenant. When she finally returned to the Main Hall she handed Lysander's cloak to a servant—she recognized faces but she didn't know everyone's name anymore, and she couldn't check in the Fade. She couldn't read the paths or the silver flame might catch her.

Revas was fast asleep in his little bed in Bettina's room. She carried him up four flights of stairs to her chamber. She'd already pulled back the blankets and laid him down when she realized Fen'Harel was there.

Fen'Harel slept, shadowed by the bed hangings. Leaning against the bed post with his legs drawn up, a stack of writing paper beside him. Dreaming.

He looked exhausted. And dirty. He smelled like smoky torches and ale and old dust. What was he even doing here?

"Banal'athim," she said under her breath.

But even in sleep his face was drawn with fatigue.

The little I can do to strengthen Skyhold's defenses....

She didn't want to wake him. And she didn't want to disturb Revas.

She remembered Lysander's offer. And she thought about Solas—the man she'd known, and the one before her now. Proud, irritable, reserved. What had made her love him?

He'd always been so wonderfully knowledgeable about exactly the right things. Political acumen combined with rare magical insight. Artistic ability. The frescoes. They were what had finally made her fall for him—the astonishing murals he'd painted for her. But the most important reason was his soul. Whatever his complexities, whatever the Dalish pretended to know, she still believed he was a good man... though a terrible person to love.

A man who thought two steps ahead of everyone else, who saw the angle in everything, but when they found some of their men slain his first thought was for their families. A man who smiled with such fierce pride when she'd detoured their quest to save the world in order to help a grieving widower.

For years he'd lied about everything important. And when he finally won her heart he'd left her demolished—staring in sheer amazement at the wreckage. But it was her fault a little too.

I always knew he had a secret.

Maybe the best thing was to go downstairs, find Lysander's room in the next wing, and prove she too could walk away. Let sleeping gods lie.

Should I...?

A choice, a decision hung in the balance. But in the grand scheme of things what difference did it make? She couldn't promise a future to either of them. She didn't love Lysander, and Solas for her was many years in the past. The Dread Wolf would never promise her anything, simply because there was no promise he wouldn't break.

She leaned over and blew out the candle on the bedstand. Then she unbuttoned her jacket, nestling in beside Revas. She kissed her son on the cheek and closed her eyes. Maybe it was the wrong decision. Maybe if she lived past tomorrow she would rue this moment.

In the end, she was just a little too tired to face all those stairs.

She woke at lauds two hours later, enveloped in almost complete darkness. A servant had loosened the bed hangings—she was surrounded by shadows. Her elven eyes opened wide, gradually adjusted. Fen'Harel's sleeping face was mere inches from hers. She felt his soft breath against her skin.

She gazed at him, at his features softened in sleep, and for a strangled moment she couldn't breathe. She sat up, disentangled herself from the blankets, remembered not to disturb Revas who slept quite soundly between them. She paused for a moment on the edge of the bed to wince at the tense muscles in her back. Tired, but there was more to do.

A light touch—his hand on her arm. "It's very late," Fen'Harel said quietly.

"Go back to sleep," she whispered. "Watch over Revas."

"I will," he said.

Evin turned her back on them, reached for the robe beside the bed and pulled it over her shoulders. An attendant, someone new—Tanner? Tanith—met her downstairs with a hot mug. She sipped it as she walked to the scriptorium.

She took her accustomed place. Her tools were tea, veilfire and ink. Late-night runners brought in correspondence and left with replies. The remaining hours till morning she spent writing, copying words she composed in the Fade onto paper and parchment. She wrote until the sun rose, until there were no more ravens to send.

The moon had sunk into slumber hours before. Skyhold slept, but on the walls the Inquisition's heightened vigil continued. A sentry descended the stairs from the northwest watchtower, turned the corner, and disappeared into more shadows. The sound of her footsteps faded. And a small, pale wisp flickered into being.

Unobserved, the wisp spun lazily for one or two moments. Then it winked out. A mass of shadows like a tangle of coiling snakes took its place. And the shadow sank into gradual form, coalescing into hands, legs, shoulders.

Where the wisp had been knelt the powerful figure of a man. He was dressed the same as any other guard except his personal features were curiously indistinct. He pulled up his cowl to conceal his face.

The man stood, descended three stairs to a crevice in a narrow ledge, and found the small glass vial hidden there.

The vial shattered, the lyrium-infused liquid drained away. Beneath his cowl the man's tawny eyes glowed.

Another guard appeared around the corner, descending the stair from the northwest tower. Where the tawny-eyed man had been was nothing but darkness and the smashed potion, glass fragments gleaming, useless and unnoticed under the pale and silent stars.

Chapter Text

He Who Hunts Alone was not fond of children. It wasn't that Fen'Harel detested them—mostly. They made him feel awkward. He preferred to spend his days in study or contemplation, and children were conducive to neither. He had never learned what one said to a child, how one spoke. And here he was, intentionally seeking out a three-year-old.

Watch over Revas.

Of course Evin Lavellan would ask the Bringer of Nightmares to watch her son while he slept. The irony appealed to his sense of self-derision.

He was not above admitting some... curiosity.

There had never been many children in the Arlathan of his time. A society of immortals had little room for them. In those days the children he encountered usually belonged to servants or allies—and were therefore stupid with fright, or mere victims he pitied, assisted, and passed by. He could tolerate their company, but the necessity was rare enough even before the events that led to his uthenera. He supposed children must come with all manner of personalities—or else how did adults come by theirs? His own childhood had been peculiar. He couldn't use himself as an example.

Abyss help him if Revas inherited his father's unhappy temperament. Fen'Harel hoped he took after Evin.

He slipped into the dreaming Fade to hunt. It didn't take long to find the sleeping mind he sought.

In a clearing in a wood a small boy sat playing. The images were curious and indistinct, frayed on the edges, the product of a fledgling mind. The child's idea of a forest was a slightly larger version of the Chantry garden. He had never seen real trees. Even here, even in his dreams, there were walls.

Revas woke up crying three times last night....

The fears Fen'Harel saw in his mind were a child's fear of the dark, images drawn from stories and imaginings. Were night terrors normal for a child this age? He remembered reading something once about the sorts of dreams children had, but he had forgotten the details centuries ago.

He squatted beside the child, steadying himself with his staff. "What are you playing, da'len?"

Revas looked up from a pile of twigs and mud. His eyes were like olive leaves, gray and green. His blond hair curled, his small face still had a winter pallor. He didn't express any surprise at Fen'Harel's presence.

"I'm going on a mission," Revas said.

"What manner of mission?"

"I'm going to fight Cora—Corasus. I'm making a potion. I need more little worms first."

"That sounds delicious," Fen'Harel said. "Can I help you fight... Corasus?"

"No! I can do it myself."

So much for that approach. He didn't want to alarm the child. What was he supposed to say? Excuse me, little one, your people view me as a traitor to their race but do not be afraid. You are my son, but if my enemies knew it would mark you for death. Do you mind if I inspect you for signs of intrusive magic or demonic tampering?

"Is Corypheus far?" Fen'Harel asked finally.

Revas worked his tiny fingers through the muddy mess of the "potion", scowling in concentration. "It's not far. You have to be careful because the monsters chase you."

Ah, there it was. "What sort of monsters, da'len? Do they speak to you?"

"Psh, monsters don't talk. They want to eat you. But wolfs do that sometimes."

Predictable—the usual calumny. Despite his irritation he found his lips twitching with amusement. "Wolves do not eat elves, da'len. They are honorable and intelligent creatures. Wolves live in families like ourselves."

Revas plainly thought he was insane. "That's just ridiculous."

"Ridiculous it may seem, but it is true," Fen'Harel said.

Revas humored the hahren. "Maybe those are different wolfs," he said.

"In the high days of Halamshiral, wolves were loyal companions to the Emerald Knights. There are many tales of their bravery and devotion."

Revas still looked skeptical. "Do you have a wolf?"

"Always," Fen'Harel said. "Perhaps I might show you? Do not worry, little one, you will be safe."

Fen'Harel twisted himself into his kindest, least worrisome form. Winter white fur with soft pink ears, black whiskers, eyes like the night that windowed the stars. Small and nonthreatening as it was possible to be.

When the boy perceived him his mouth fell open in amazement. "Fluffy!" the boy exclaimed.

Fen'Harel had the feeling his tail was about to get pulled.

The laughing child reached for him, squeezed at his fur, yanked. He bore it patiently, yipped a little when a real wolf would have done so. He sensed no nefarious unusual enchantments, no outside interference. Nothing but a child's natural anxiety.

"Your mother tells me you have trouble sleeping," he said, in the way wolves can in dreams.

The boy looked at him. "The monsters chase me sometimes. But they won't chase you."

"They can never catch me," the Wolf said. "Let me show you a trick."

He crouched closer to the ground, and the boy hugged his neck tight, wrapping his arms around him. An unusual, tremulous warmth worked its way into his heart. Fen'Harel thought he might be a little bit in trouble, of a kind he hadn't expected....

The Wolf began to run—the boy laughed close to his ear. The remaining hours they raced together, chasing fleet and playful spirits through the sunlight-dappled paths.

Waking always was the worst part. He heard voices, a child's high-pitched question, the low murmur of a reply. Weak sunlight on his face, irritating to his closed eyes. He wanted to draw the comforting Veil around him once more, escape into the dreaming lands and wander the eternal fields for another year or ten.

A nagging thought came to him. There was something he needed to do.

Wings of silver, wings of green. Today it begins....

His eyes flew open. Evin's bed, the Inquisitor's chamber. The bed curtains were tied back—that had introduced the sunlight. It was early morning but there were windows full north.

"Pardon me, ser, will you have breakfast now?"

He blinked bleary eyes, looked into the face of the elvhen who asked. A serving woman with clipped hair and a nervous manner.

Breakfast? He nodded.

The woman looked relieved. "There's hot water for washing. Do you have any baggage we can send up? I checked, only I couldn't find anything for you—"

Baggage. He had none but his stave. "Ma serannas, hot water is fine."

The woman made a courtesy and backed away.

He sat up in the cushioned bed, closed his eyes for a moment to unfurl his other senses. He felt restored. The orb sang with renewed strength, the wards held, the sigil of oblivion showed no sign of stress. All in Tarasyl'an Te'las was quiet.

He sensed Evin's presence in the Veil. Voices murmuring—a boy's excited chatter—the sound of a door closing on the other side of the room. The air in the room was cold even with the small fire going. He was alone except for the servant.

He rose from the bed, found a jug of hot water on a stand which he poured out into a basin. Straight razor in a canvas wrap, a shaving kit. He chuckled and visualized the runes, scoured the dust from his body and clothes. His fingers plunged into the steaming water. He rinsed himself—hands, face and head—and dried with the cloth provided for the purpose.

"A convenient spell," Evin said.

"There is a trick to it," he replied, opening his eyes.

Evin had been watching him for a little while. Her mouth was solemn, strained, but she didn't look especially tired. Her hair was wet, unbound except for two small braids.

"So many tricks," she said. Then she sighed. "That was unmerited. I'm sorry"

Fen'Harel considered her for a moment—a thought that gave him pain. "I like you better in the Fade," he said. "You are... real there. You don't always say what you think I want to hear."

"The Fade has no future to foresee," she said.

"I would prefer your candor."

"That's what people think they want," she said. "It's not what they actually want."

"How do you know what I want?" he returned.

"I—" Her breath caught. She looked up at him.

"I enjoyed sleeping with you last night," he said, drawing closer to her. "Was it an entire three hours, or only two?"

The serving woman working at the grate dropped a tool with a sudden clattering noise. If he looked he thought he might observe her ears swiveling toward them. Let others know. He hoped they did.

The Anchor was his. Evin was his. And she had proved it by returning to him last night. She had passed his test—she trusted him, somehow.

Perhaps she shouldn't, a voice whispered.

Despite her power Evin wasn't all-seeing. He was beginning to learn the limits of her vision. She had no means to discover the things he would never, ever say.

Ma vhenan, I think I never really knew you. Gratified by secrets I hid so well, I never guessed at yours.

"I didn't expect to find you here," Evin said. "Some confusion about the location of the guest rooms, I assume."

"There was no mistake," he said quietly.

Was this a kind of madness, the way his hand reached of its own accord to twist one of her damp curls around his fingers, the way he leaned in to her, daring the edge of the blade, threatening to fall? A perilous gambit, but she was captured.

She stared at him and all he could see was her mouth, the shiver of her pulse in her neck. His thumb traced the elegant line of her jaw and her small chin, pressed against her lower lip. Her sweet warm breath, and the lost expression in her sunset eyes.

He preferred her in the Fade. She felt things there, she was real. But she was real now too.

"We shouldn't," she whispered.

"We'll do whatever we please," he told her.

"And when you leave?" she asked.

Why would he leave? She was coming with him....

"Is that what you see?" he asked.

"I can't," she said, "but I just can't—"

Her lips found his. She stretched up on her toes and met his mouth—somehow found that place in his arms where she had always belonged—but her hands pressed into his chest, maintaining that distance between them. Her tongue, her taste, and he was losing his mind.

Why? Why was he doing this? He'd always wanted too much. He still wanted.

She knew his name. She didn't fear him. It wasn't a lie, not really. Maybe she would hate him later but not yet, not yet.

His hands went to her waist, her hips. He pressed her against the bedpost. He wanted to feel her body tremble, her silken throat against his lips, her resonant voice in his ear. The dizzying scent of magnolia and embrium and her luminous presence in the Fade. A thousand sensations came flooding back from a night he had somehow forced himself to forget.

If that chambermaid hadn't already fled she was about to get a hell of a show.

The sound of a door closing on the other side of the room—good—he wanted them to be alone in whatever time was left—

"Ma fen enfaneem!" a voice cried joyfully.

Evin broke away. "Revas?"

She slipped from his grasp--Fen'Harel released her.

The child emitted a wild yell and tore off in a circle around the room. "Mamae! Wolfs are ridiculous!"

Fen'Harel turned away, fighting to get his breath under control. Among other things.

The maid had laid out breakfast at the side table. Evin proceeded to it and took her usual place. Fen'Harel joined her after a few moments, but Revas had no interest in breakfast.

"Can I take a nap now?" the child asked.

The Inquisitor stared after her son, bewildered. "It's too early for naps," she said. A slight frown drew Evin's brows together—her eyes met Fen'Harel's. "This is your doing."

"What do you mean?" he asked, not at all evasively.

"I don't know, but it is."

"Mamae, I was a wolf before! Can I show you my dream?"

"Why don't you tell me about it? Come and have breakfast."

Revas made another circuit around the room, small feet pounding. Finally the child approached the table. He climbed into his chair. "Why doesn't hahren Solas have white hair? Don't all hahrens have white hair, mamae?"

"Sometimes they have no hair," Evin said.

"I am not old enough for such things," Fen'Harel said.

Evin choked on her tea. He offered her a napkin.

"Will hahren Solas read me a story?"

"It's not time for stories. Eat your porridge before it gets cold," Evin replied.

Revas grimaced. "Wolfs don't eat porridge."

"Solas," Evin said, exasperated.

"How can I contradict him? The child is correct," Fen'Harel said.

If he read Evin correctly she was a touch amused. "Elves eat porridge," Evin said. "If you don't eat now you'll be hungry later. Linna won't give you any biscuits, so don't ask her."

Revas gave a great sigh, then plunged his spoon into his pot of porridge. He stirred it once or twice without appetite. "Do wolfs eat fruit, hahren?"

Evin met Fen'Harel's eyes. It was not quite a glare.

"Yes. Yes they do," he said.

"I thought so. I like apples," Revas said happily. He picked up a piece of fruit and began to eat.

If it were up to Fen'Harel he would preserve this moment in amber to savor forever. But he saw Evin's eyes stray to the candle clock above the fireplace, and wondered what she saw.

Evin pushed back her chair. She was in no kind of hurry, but she stood and went to stand beside Revas.

"One," she said.

He felt the confident surge of her mana. A barrier wrought of white light flared out around her, protecting both herself and the child.

"Two," she said.

A pause of silence, then—

A blinding flash of light jabbed at his eyes. It had come from the west, straight out through the windows of the Inquisitor's chamber, past the walls of Tarasyl'an Te'las, over the gate bridge.

The light reached them first. Hardly more than a breath after it, a thunderous rush of air shook the tower like a bough caught in the wind.

"Three," she said.

The floor shook, wood splintered and snapped. The walls groaned—the wards withered, rebounded—

Every pane of glass in the west windows shattered. Fragments exploded inward in a storm of shards.

A few minutes earlier—

Three elves, cloaked and hooded, approached the outer gatehouse of Tarasyl'an Tel'as. The switchback road to the lake village stretched behind them, but no one in the village had seen them. Nor had the three passed anyone on the road. A sharp wind gusted, but somehow it didn't manage to disturb the fall of their cloaks.

"Ho there!" a figure hailed from the gate tower. "Skyhold is closed to pilgrims. You must turn back!"

The elves drew to a stop. Their leader—a woman, taller than the rest—cast down her hood. For a moment there seemed a kind of mist about her eyes, a glint of red in the morning sunlight. A flicker, perhaps, then it was gone.

"Kill that one first," Andruil said.

Chapter Text

You got used to old habits, old tricks. The pawl in a crossbow, set so you could cock it at a moment's notice. Boots pre-laced, lined up beside your bed so you could find them in a hurry. The leather wrapping on your wrist tucked under your palm so it wouldn't come undone. The maul on your back—two straps, not three. Two jounced more, two distracted at first, but when a fight happened you wanted to wrestle with the enemy, not your gear. Little things. Things they all did.

Old habits—like trusting the man at your back because he'd saved your life a dozen times. Or, well, contributed to saving your life.

Fucking Dalish.

The Iron Bull struggled to draw a breath, coughed on blood and grime. The day had started out a lot less shitty.

They'd arrived too late to make it to Skyhold, spent the night by the lake. Word was the gates were closed anyway—no point riding up there in the dark only to turn around. The next morning he woke the officers before dawn. They got the horses ready and began the long, slow climb to the bridge tower. He took his destrier, a filthy-tempered warhorse so many hands high even he didn't look ridiculous riding it. He was still trying to think of a suitable name. Black Steel? Raging Hooves? Something like that.

The Iron Bull liked Skyhold's situation in the tactical sense of the word. It had great sightlines, a guarded approach, and it was isolated enough you knew what was coming days in advance. He just wished the road was a little less steep. Also, the wind made it helluva cold. After they reached Skyhold he was going to take the Tamassran of all baths, maybe find that woman who worked in the dungeon. She'd been eyeing him lately. Yeah, they both knew what was up with that.

Krem had found somebody in the village. He hadn't wanted to barge in—let the guy enjoy himself, it had been a long journey—so he had Rocky with him, plus Dalish and the new guy, another Dalish (not to be confusing) they called Strings. New-ish. Strings had saved his life a few times already.

And now he was going to die.

The Iron Bull forced his arm to move, dragged his hand behind his waist, found the hole in his back slippery with fresh blood. His other hand was pinned by rubble. There was dirt and grit in his mouth but he was too thirsty to spit. That was going to be a problem soon, if he didn't choke on his own blood first.

His mind kept working the problem, trying to find the angle. What was it with elves? Lately it was always fucking elves.

Even the business with Nevarra. The Inquisitor didn't flat out say it but she hadn't sent anybody there till the panicked nobles started purging the alienages, conscripting every able-bodied leaf-ear they could find to hold a weapon and stand in a ditch on the Tevinter border. It wasn't that they didn't conscript a few human peasants too, but they started with the elves.

It was the diseased way people here thought. He still believed the Qun was right about that. The southerners divided each other into "us" and "them" and always chose "us" first, no matter if that brought the Inquisition crashing down on their asses. Well, he didn't mind kicking in the teeth of vashedan that called itself noble.

What he minded was getting stabbed in the back. He minded that a whole hell of a lot.

He just hadn't been thinking about that when they rode up to the gate. Word had gotten round so there was nobody else waiting there, just the sentries. The Iron Bull dismounted and hailed the man on duty. The captain's name was Oriel, there were a couple more soldiers in the tower house. They all wore full armor.

The boss must be serious, but who'd attack the Inquisition in its own stronghold? You'd have to be nuts. Crazy ass Tevinter magister-level nuts.

He was glad the Chargers had made it back in time. This might be something to see.

"Got any idea what's going on?" he asked after they'd exchanged the current watchword.

"Nothing in or out until the commander says," Oriel said. "That's all I know."

"There been trouble lately?"

"Inquisitor thinks there will be."

"So, what, we sit around with the gate closed, scratching our balls until something happens?"

"That's the plan. Sorry, I know you've been in the field a while. You could send a raven from the village."

"Nah, don't worry about it," The Iron Bull said—Krem was handling it. "You mind if we wait here a while? No sense heading back right away. I brought some Antivan brandy if you have some stories to go with it."

The captain agreed, which was good because it gave him the chance to sift for more news. Plus, the brandy wasn't half bad.

They picketed their horses and went upstairs to warm up. The guys on duty wouldn't drink more than one shot, which left plenty for the Chargers. The Iron Bull had launched into his new favorite story—just getting to the part with the bartender and the butter churn—when he heard the guard outside issue a hail.

He peered through the narrow window. Before the gate, shadowed by the morning sun, three hooded pilgrims. Elves.

For elves they were tall, willowy, but they had the sort of muscle you didn't typically see in their kind. If a Tamassran saw an elf like that her mind would start clicking through a whole new breeding program. Seriously, most elves looked like they needed help to pick a daisy—Strings and Dalish included—but not these. They were built. They wore simple gray cloaks, knee-length over fancy ass armor he'd never—


The Iron Bull shook his head, reached for his maul. A meaningful nod got Rocky, Dalish, and Strings out of their chairs, grabbing for their weapons too.

It was just in case, but he didn't think his instincts were wrong. Too many discrepancies. His mind had cataloged thousands of types of armor and weapons and he'd never seen stuff like these elves wore. The closest he could come up with was a few years back, the Arbor Wilds... and that meant weird. It meant: presume dangerous.

The Iron Bull ducked under the door frame and went down to the gate. The Chargers followed. The duty guard called out something from his post, but The Iron Bull didn't catch what he said. He heard the reply, though.

"He thinks to stop me with these alas'len," the middle elf said.

Woman. Taller. The leader. Her voice was low-pitched, she spoke the common tongue like a queen. She sounded pissed—contemptuous, even.


He wasn't sure why the word sprang to mind. It struck him as the only one that fit: Dangerous thing.

He felt a surge of fear he didn't understand. She was just standing there but her anger made the world look small. Long experience with body language told him she was about to start killing any second now—and she didn't have a weapon in her hand. Maybe that was it. Bassrath-kata.

He adjusted the maul resting on his shoulder. Carefully checking his grip.

"Sorry ma'am," he told her. "Gate's closed. Boss's orders."

The saarebas looked at him. Rather, she looked his direction. Most people when they looked at someone looked at their eyes. They knew you were a person. On some level they were evaluating your reactions and thoughts. Not her. She gazed at a lump of flesh standing in her way.

It wasn't a predator/prey sort of thing. Not like a hawk would look at a vole—the hawk would have seen something it wanted. For this woman he was... nothing.

And in her face, her eyes, a glint of red. What it reminded him of he wasn't sure—

"Kill that one first," the saarebas said.

"Well, that's just mean," he said.

"Chargers!" Rocky yelled.

The Iron Bull lifted his maul, readied it. He heard the Chargers behind him doing much the same. He sensed danger but wasn't sure from what. Saarebas—so, magic, right?

One of the woman's companions made a sharp laugh of mirth. Her buddies weren't even armed. But the elf cracked up—

Something in his blind spot—a rush of movement—

A knife struck him from behind, plunged deep into his lower back.

Agony erupted in his body like a flood bursting a dam, pain shrieked through him, a burning spreading numbness. Strings, who loved his poisons. Strings, whose crazy elf tattoos were a glare of red like lit embers on his face. Strings, twisting the blade.

"Katara," The Iron Bull cursed. The maul slipped from nerveless hands. He fell to one knee.

Rocky fought for the dripping knife, but the elf kicked at him with unnatural strength. Dalish was on her knees, screaming without sound, her mouth an enormous O of horror, her eyes nothing but whites.

"Tu na misar, ruan'an!" Strings cried.

The Iron Bull felt for the excruciating wound in his back. His fingers met hot, slippery blood. He fell forward onto his face and almost didn't notice when the wall came down.

He couldn't help but wonder how many more Dalish there were in Skyhold. Who would warn the Inquisitor?

I'm sorry boss, he thought as he lost consciousness. I wish we made it in time.

"Open it," Andruil said.

Her companion lifted his hand. A green circle formed of sigils expanded from his gesture. It smote the grating, burst it outward into jagged pieces. They walked through the opening, and turning back the elvhen man snapped his fingers with derision. He pulled chunks of the wall down upon the shemlen like toy bricks from a toy castle.

"The Wolf is well-warded," he said.

"I will break it," Andruil replied.

Her cloak was spattered with blood, unclean. She pushed it from her shoulders, strode forward over the fragments of the gate, onto the long but narrow span that bridged the white abyss to the fortress.

Andruil stretched forth her right hand—golden light gathered there, then a gleaming recurved bow wrought with cunning lines. With her left she plucked a silver arrow out of nothingness. The awakened huntress nocked the arrow to the bow, drew, and let fly.

The arrow shot over the bridge toward Tarasyl'an Te'las, soaring in an arc high above the fortress walls. Halfway across the span it struck an unseen barrier.

A blinding flare of light tore at their eyes, a sharp crack followed by a high-pitched keen as the magic collapsed. Force exploded from the point of impact, expanded outward in a wave. Flags shredded from their banners. A roar echoed from the snow-covered peaks around them.

Andruil lowered her bow. The two elvhen and the shemlen slave moved to follow her. When they were farther out onto the span, Andruil nodded to the other elvhen, the one who had not laughed. The woman's eyes lowered in response, a fond reverence.

The woman lifted the vallaslin-marked shemlen by the chestplate with one hand and threw him off the edge.

The body fell a long, long way to the ice-blanketed boulders below.

Shards of glass exploded in a cacophony around them. The fragments rebounded from the barrier that protected Evin Lavellan and her child. Forewarned by her actions Fen'Harel permitted the glass to pass harmlessly through his body.

They stood in the highest tower of Tarasyl'an Te'las, but now the windows were shattered and colored glass carpeted the floor. Revas was crying, a wail of confusion and fear.

It has begun.

Fen'Harel threaded his awareness into the underlying wards and found a grievous surprise—the outlying alarums had fallen without a murmur, so cunningly had his enemies broken through. And now they stripped the barrier at the bridge.

Of course. The old techniques—for him it had been a very long time. Even in Elvhenan it had been rare for a god to assault another god. He had almost forgotten the ways of war. And now he had better remember in a hurry or Evin and Revas would pay the price.

He and his sentinels must stage to fight. The barrier had fallen but the core wards held. His earlier labor had served to renew what was already there, and that magic was powerful old. He didn't know any power that could break it without weeks and months of effort. It gave him a slight advantage: they could not destroy Skyhold as long as he held it. The defensive ground was his.

Fen'Harel returned part of his attention to the Inquisitor and the child. He pulled his son into his arms.

Evin stared at him, her eyes blank. "It's already changing."

"What do you see now?" he asked.

"I can't—I don't dare look."

He didn't care, he wanted her to calm herself and think.

Today she would need her full power. Perhaps it was time he told her how to use it.

"Inquisitor. If you were to use the Anchor—"

The mark in her left hand burst into life, a shock of pale green fire. The Veil rippled—the world went still around them—she had somehow frozen them in time, or else—

"STOP!" she cried. "Whatever you were going to say, don't."


"Don't tell me until I ask," she said. Her voice shook with obvious, appalling fear. "Until there's nothing else to do."

Astonished, he assented. "Very well."

She quenched the Anchor, the world resumed.

He didn't understand. To him it seemed a simple thing—

To fully unleash the Anchor you should not manifest it in your hand. Its true power was better seated in her head or heart. As far as he was aware she'd only done that once, when they'd sealed the Breach. And now she didn't want to know.

There was some mystery there, but he had no time to pursue it.

He shifted Revas to his other arm, then retrieved his stave from beside the fireplace. He carefully picked his way to the stair, but his feet were wrapped, not shod. The broken glass cut into his soles.

He had to burn some power to stop the bleeding. A trifling amount, but even that might matter.

The Main Hall was a confusion of frightened nobles, worried soldiers, cries of alarm and speculation. Linna claimed Revas from him, wiped the tears from the child's face with her apron. Fen'Harel pushed past the onlookers to the atrium—desiring to meet his sentinels in the courtyard outside—but when he realized the Inquisitor had fallen behind he stopped.

A page helped Evin shrug into a long leather coat. She slung a quiver and a compound bow over one shoulder, worked a bracer over her wrist with the other hand.

He stared at the bow, astounded. "Don't you intend to use a staff? Inquisitor, please!"

"I'm used to fighting this way," she said. "Don't judge."

Lysander Lavellan and Yvette Montilyet met them by the door to the rotunda. Something flickered over the elvhen's face when he saw the two of them, but Fen'Harel honestly didn't care.

"We have guests," the Inquisitor's clansman observed. "So far they've destroyed much of the gate tower and, well, thrown someone from the bridge."

"That's monstrous," Yvette exclaimed.

"Lysander, send the children and the sick and infirm to the dungeon," the Inquisitor said. "It's the safest place I can think of."

"Ironically," Lysander said.

"Do not send them below, Inquisitor," Fen'Harel cut in. "Put them in the rotunda among the frescos. The wards are strongest there."

"We should make sure to include the Rivaini ambassador's mother," Yvette said. "She's in rather poor health. And so cantankerous."

"I'll leave it to you, my friends," Evin said with a slight smile.

Fen'Harel wondered if the others realized how much strain she was under. If any of them knew what they were about to face the panic in the hall would have increased considerably. It was just as well to conceal the truth.

I wish I could have spared you. I wish I'd had a choice.

He recalled his instructions to Arlasan and repeated them to himself like a silent prayer: Preserve the Anchor. Preserve Tarasyl'an Te'las. And save as many lives as he could.

Images and impressions in the gathering stillness:

A diffuse and distant cloud of dust rising over the bridge. Tattered banners snapping under the fierce wind. Soldiers that ran to meet them but fell silent as grave markers when they passed. His sentinels, their faces passionless, eyes watchful.

The solitary sun behind them, casting long shadows at their feet. The quickened hum of the wards pressing against his mind. A wild and impetuous new presence in the Veil, at once painfully familiar and vastly different.

Emma ir abelas. It was his fault.

Cullen Rutherford met them at the stairs below the inner gate. His plate armor blazed in the morning light. "They wish to parley," Cullen said. "At least I think that's what they want."

"What did they say?" the Inquisitor asked.

"They want to talk to the wolf. Whatever that means," Cullen said.

"I suppose I'll have to do," Evin said.

"Inquisitor—" Fen'Harel began.

"I don't want to hear it, Solas," she snapped.

Evin ran up the stairs two at a time, rounded the corner when she reached it. He made a silent gesture to Arlasan and Ilgarla to remain behind. He followed with Cullen, climbing to the walkway above the inner gate.

At the top of the stairs were some old friends—Blackwall and Sutherland, each looking rather under the weather—and others he didn't know. A blond woman in Seekers' armor. A lieutenant of the guard. A Dalish hunter innocent of vallaslin.

"Loranil," the Inquisitor said. "I want you at the north tower with the other archers."

"Yes, Inquisitor," the young elvhen said.

Evin strode to the edge of the battlement. She put one foot on the crenel and leaned over to inspect the three distant figures below.

Fen'Harel joined her silently. He forced himself to look, to show himself.

The woman he had betrayed and imprisoned for a hundred generations. The Awakened One, the Immortal Huntress, his peer and equal: Andruil the Corrupted.

Her servants were with her, two hunting hounds with histories as cruel as hers in the fullest depths of her madness. Nihloras and Rhadamys, equal fiends and authors to a catalog of horrors. How she had found them he didn't know.

"Greetings, strangers," Evin Lavellan called out. "I am the Inquisitor. I am the ruler here. And if you've done murder, you will face my judgment."

"What is this glittering trinket, brother?" Andruil returned. "You kept it in the body of a shemlen? You always were weak-minded."

"I am so sorry," Fen'Harel said, his voice breaking. "I never meant for this to happen."

He would have given anything in the world—paid any price—to break one link in the chain that led to this day.

It was all his fault. And he would put it right.

"That's your sister?" Cullen muttered.

"Did she call me a trinket?" Evin asked.

"I embraced the power you would not," Andruil cried. "God of rustics, peasant-garbed, return to the abyss that spawned you! I will take back what you stole!"

"I will not allow you to destroy the people here," he said.

Andruil's laughter echoed across the stone walls. "Try and stop me, Dread Wolf! You have no slaves, no spirits, no mighty creatures to command. Your sentinels are a thousand years too early to match mine."

"That is true," he said. "But I have something you do not—the will of those who fight and think for themselves."

"The will to die," she said. "So be it."

Fen'Harel left the battlement. He dragged the Inquisitor with him. None of them yet understood.

"I take it this means a fight," Cullen said.

The Seeker looked baffled. "Do we shoot them with arrows, or—?"

"Be wary of their magic," Fen'Harel said.

"Then I'll call on the Maker," the blond woman said. And Parethia Norn lifted her hand to strengthen the Veil.

Pawn to E4, Fen'Harel thought. Your move.

And Rhadamys, eyes glittering, ripped power from the Fade—dashed to the edge of the bridge and leapt off. Her form flickered and blurred. A great dragon with green scales took her place.

The dragon spread her wings to gather the wind, soaring, wheeling past the northern watchtower. And screams rang out on the walls of Tarasyl'an Te'las.

Chapter Text

Andruil's sentinel stole wings of green and screamed rage at the ranks of archers on the north wall. For the first time in a score of ages, a dragon assaulted the high keep of Tarasyl'an Te'las. The mortals who stood near Fen'Harel above the gate stared in shock like slack-jawed puppets, a profoundly annoying response that made him want to shake them all. The Seeker, the Knight-Commander, Blackwall and Sutherland and the rest, every one seemed dumb-founded.

Except for the Inquisitor, whose response rattled him for a different reason.

"What did you steal, Solas?" Evin Lavellan asked.

Of all Andruil's words she had selected the most dangerous. Fen'Harel split his attention between her and the goddess. "You saw it in the Fade," he replied.

"It's more than that," she said.

"No time, vhenan."

The goddess on the bridge probed the Veil, flung at him a graceless challenge. Arcane energy roiled from the chaos provoked by her feint. Fen'Harel quickly threaded his awareness through the ancient runes that bound the fortress. Old magic pooled and streamed from the reservoir beneath the Undercroft, past the protected enclosure of the round tower where the innocents were sheltered.

He seized the quicksilver vigor of the wards and lashed at his opponent. A single bolt of piercing blue hurtled at the bridge below.

A thunderous boom cracked out, the sharp scent of metal stung his nostrils. Andruil deflected it. Her second sentinel, Nihloras, staggered to one knee beside her.

"Will you hide behind your towers, Fen'Harel?" Andruil the Corrupted called to him.

"Forget the shemlen, sister," he replied. "Come and meet me—if you dare."

"Why don't I wreck something of yours first?" asked Nihloras.

The elvhen man pushed himself to his feet. Fen'Harel sensed a complex manipulation through the Veil but could not guess what it portended. He dared not divert his attention from the goddess.

The blond Seeker—who had called on her god moments before—suddenly cried out in astonishment. Behind her emerged a faceless shade shaped like a man, a shadow given form. Where the eyes would be, verdant pinpricks green as veilfire.

Before Parethia Norn could react at all the shade seized her. Darker tendrils, something like hands, writhed about Parethia Norn's neck, captured her upper arm.

Nihloras began to laugh, a chilling cackle.

"Maker!" the human woman cried in a strangled voice.

"Parethia!" Cullen shouted.

The shade dissolved into the Fade, pulling the woman with it. Fen'Harel sensed before he saw them reappear on the bridge.

Behind him, Blackwall began to curse. "Maker's balls—"

"Lower the drawbridge, now!" the Inquisitor commanded. "Open it!"

It would come too late.

Parethia Norn struggled against the shade that held her—drew a long dagger from its sheathe in a single motion. "Make me an instrument of your will," the woman prayed.

Nihloras took a step or two toward her, diffident, confident, and cruel. The elvhen lifted his hand, motioned to himself, a mocking gesture like an introduction. The Seeker slashed at him with her dagger. In the same instant, the elf vanished—a fragmented illusion.

The shade snapped the arm she had extended. Fen'Harel heard the bone crack.

"Shall I break your toy, Dread Wolf?" the shade called. Nihloras' voice.

The woman collapsed on the bridge.

Fen'Harel swept back his anger, his biting sense of shame. The Seeker was an acceptable loss—the Inquisition had others. Regrettable but worth the information he had gained about his opponents' abilities. Now he must weave a stronger safeguard for those he could not afford to lose. Fen'Harel began to construct a reactant magic, a shield of sliding plates that would protect those in its range with an invisible barrier.

The Inquisitor had other ideas. Evin Lavellan pivoted on her heel, heading for the stair that led down to the gate. Fen'Harel caught her arm.

"No," he said.

He had a distinct number of resources at hand, each with its own strengths and limitations. If he was to have any chance of salvaging this situation, of wresting some kind of victory from the battle, he had to shepherd his material with care. The Inquisitor was not a tool he could casually throw away. She, of all of them, had to survive. He had to make her understand.

"Your life is more important," he said.

Evin glared back. "Wolf take you! I wasn't—"

Below, on the bridge, the Seeker screamed.

"Dispatch someone else," Fen'Harel told her. "Anyone."

"Sutherland," the Inquisitor's voice snapped. "Your company. Retrieve Seeker Norn, now. And send somebody to the gate house. Those sentries may need help."

"As you say, ser," Sutherland replied.

The man disappeared into the stairwell, heavy plate clattering. Fen'Harel could hear the loud, slow clank of the drawbridge gear chain begin to turn.

Below them on the bridge, the spectral figure of Nihloras began to divide. The elvhen dissolved into the shadowy form of a much larger horror—a creature wrought of will wrested from the Beyond. Its limbs were formed of a multitude of shades, twined figures with gleaming veilfire eyes cunningly twisted into a single, greater shape. In place of wings, a lattice of woven smoke. Instead of eyes, two gyres of deeper black.

The shadow creature gathered itself to leap. It vaulted to the south tower, fell on the guards stationed there, swiping at them with claws that glinted green. Men tried to flee, tumbling from the walls in their terror.

"I've never seen a monster like that," Blackwall muttered. "Not in my darkest dreams."

"How in the Maker's name do we fight it?" Cullen asked.

"With templars," Fen'Harel said. "And lyrium. Nihloras feeds on death, draws power from the Fade. Nail him down. Starve him."

"Do it, Commander," the Inquisitor said.

"Lieutenant, with me." Cullen Rutherford drew his sword. "For the Inquisition!"

At those words, the soldiers within earshot began to cheer.

On the northern edge of the keep, the green-scaled dragon wheeled past the Inquisition forces on the wall. Rhadamys alighted on the Circle tower, tail lashing, roaring defiance. The archers stationed there scattered in fear. A few sporadic arrows hooked toward the creature but Fen'Harel observed most of the shots miss. To the south, the shadow creature stalked what soldiers had not fled.

The Inquisitor pulled her compound bow from her shoulder. "Get the archers on that dragon, Blackwall."

It was time.

Fen'Harel slammed the blade of his staff against the flagstones by his feet. At the signal, his sentinels leapt into the air from the courtyard behind him.

Two silver dragons sprang into the sky. The glorious sunlight edged their wings with molten copper.

The remaining cheers choked off in fresh dismay. Fen'Harel supposed he would be lucky if the Inquisition did not try to kill his friends. To be sure the sentinels were quickly beyond the range of bows. Arlasan dove at the green dragon, driving Rhadamys from her perch. Ilgarla chased. The silver dragons harried the green, snapping at her, making cries of wordless wrath. Fen'Harel drew over them what protection he could—working the constructs as quickly as he dared.

Evin Lavellan ignored the dragons. It was a sight she had already seen. The Inquisitor plucked an arrow from her quiver, sighted the goddess as she drew, and released. The arrow flew straight and true—but its target disappeared.

Andruil dropped down lightly onto the walkway, as though traversing so much distance in an instant was no different than stepping onto a forest path. She swept her golden recurved bow in an arc, forcing the Inquisitor back. Andruil's will worked on the bow midswing, reshaping it. A gold-etched labrys appeared in her hands.

"Evin, look out!" Fen'Harel cried.

"You would be foolish to fight me in that form, Dread Wolf," the Huntress murmured.

Around his neck the Fen'edal burned. In the Fade, the Wolf began to open its other eyes.

Chapter Text

For Fen'Harel, the battle for Tarasyl'an Te'las narrowed to a single blow: a gold-etched labrys swung in an inexorable arc. The weapon's axis—the goddess Andruil. Its terminus—the Inquisitor, his mate. His reactant shield could not arrest it, the runes he shouted would not impede it. For half a heartbeat he wondered why Evin Lavellan did not call up a barrier to protect herself. Then he realized she had no mage's staff, only a hunter's bow. And in that shattered moment he felt his heart begin to break—

He had no spell to save her.

The double-headed axe rushed toward Evin—as certain as a pendulum in gravity's embrace. At the last and final instant something blinked. A whisper of magic, a movement his eye didn't catch.

Evin, standing on the other side of the axe. Evin, wresting the weapon from Andruil's hands. Compared to the tall and armored Huntress she looked almost a child, small and slight but very determined. Evin lacked the strength to halt the axe entirely. Instead she yanked forward, dragged the goddess off balance. Andruil could not stop her. The Anchor flared in Evin's left hand, a blaze of vivid green.

The axe flew from the goddess' grasp, clattered to the gray flagstones with a ringing clash. The Inquisitor danced out of range.

Sheer relief caught in Fen'Harel's throat. But such a trick would not, could not work again.

A gauntleted hand touched the ground, a snarl escaped the goddess. "Do not imagine I will spare your pet," Andruil said.

"That is why I must destroy you," he replied.

Evin drew an arrow from her quiver, fitted it to her bow. It was a preposterous gesture, a toy, but he had rarely loved her more.

Then Evin's bow hand hesitated. Her eyes widened. "Red lyrium. She's infected—"

Of course the Inquisitor would recognize the signs: A mottled shadowing of the skin around Andruil's eyes, a tendril of crimson that flickered one moment to the next, the sign of corruption that ate at her brain. Telltale red striations on the weapon she had summoned—poisoned, the same as its mistress.

His charge, his keeping, and he had failed her. Perhaps he had failed them all.

Andruil recovered her balance, summoned the axe to her hand with a slashing gesture. Fen'Harel shoved the Inquisitor back, guarded her with his body.

He would decline the battle with his queen. Evin must retreat.

He remembered the Inquisition's early years when they had fought so frequently beside each other. He had grown to understand Evin so well they seemed to move in sync at times, almost knew the other's thoughts. Fen'Harel glanced deliberately to the north, to the dragons, and knew she caught his meaning.

"Go," he said.

The Inquisitor's face was drawn and wary. She nodded once—and did not look back.

The God of Rebellion tore the Fen'edal from his neck. He dashed it to the ground, reckless of the ancient, brittle bone. Fade-touched power flooded through his limbs, the cursed inheritance of his birth.

And he felt the Wolf take hold.

Sutherland, retrieve Seeker Norn. And send somebody to the gate house. Those sentries may need help.

The Inquisitor's words echoed in Ser Donnal Sutherland's ears. He shoved through the gate tower doors, his plate armor crashing, turned the sharp corner at the stairs and pounded down the steps two at a time. In the courtyard a few men and women had gathered—exclaiming at the words exchanged between the Inquisitor, Ser Solas, and their mysterious enemy. Cringing at the captured Seeker's scream. Crying out in horror as a green-scaled dragon soared above the wall and to the north.

The loud clank of the chain resounded high in the gate house above them. The Inquisitor had ordered the drawbridge lowered. It was the only way to retrieve Parethia Norn.

The Company would have to charge. They'd assault the enemy with a frontal attack, drive them from their prey, then retreat. Anyone who lived would retreat, he corrected himself.

Clearly these people had astonishing powers. What if the other strangers turned into dragons? He'd never fought a dragon. It was on his list, but he sort of wanted to work his way up to it. He wasn't prepared.

Sutherland forced his mind away from these distressing thoughts. He would trust in the Inquisitor. She was a true hero, and she wouldn't ask them to do the impossible.

His wife wasn't going to like this.

Shayd met him at the base of the stair. Her bow was already in her hand. "What's going on, then?"

"Gather everyone round," Sutherland said. "As soon as the bridge is lowered, we're going."

"Where's that? You magnificent ass—what are you talking about?"

Sutherland thrust two fingers between his lips and whistled. "Sutherland's company! Fall in!" he shouted. "We're going to need some healers," he told Shayd.

"Right," she muttered.

Sutherland waited for the others to arrive—his squire first, anxious as ever about being late—then some of the other soldiers, and of course Voth, his old friend.

"Did you hear what she named him?" Voth asked. "Are you aware who that woman is?"

Sutherland regarded his friend with stunned silence. For Voth to share so many words in a single conversation was an occasion to remember. "I don't rightly know," Sutherland said. "They look like elves, though."

Sutherland felt awkward for a moment, as though mentioning the race of their enemy was somehow indelicate. Voth was an elf too. Maybe he wouldn't want to attack his own kind. Sutherland felt there might be an inscrutable etiquette about such things, and he was probably violating it.

"The Huntress," Voth said. "The Dread Wolf led her here."

Sutherland believed in Andraste but he'd always tried to be considerate about the religions of the people in his squad. "That's, ah, those are the gods of your people, right?"

"Lysander was correct. They walk among us—"

"I wonder what's got them so irate," Sutherland said. "Something to do with the Inquisitor, I'll warrant."

Gods and such—that sounded like her.

Voth returned to his silence, which was just as well because the Company had gathered. Shayd rejoined them with two healers from the infirmary. A mage and a... not-mage. That overbearing surgeon from Val Royeaux.

Sutherland quickly explained the situation. He got a lot of dubious looks, but he knew they'd follow him.

The drawbridge grating slowly rose, the pawl clanked, the bridge lowered bit by bit. They couldn't yet see over it. Sutherland drew his sword. His heart was in his throat, his fingers almost tingled with excitement and nervousness.

Screams rang out to the south, from the wall-walk far above them. Of course, here in the courtyard they couldn't see anything. Sutherland ran forward, ducking under the rising grate, mailed boots crashing on the metal walkway. The hot morning sunlight on his armor made him sweat.

Slowly, slowly, the gate lowered. His heart was pounding. He could see the tops of the banners on the bridge, the red cloth in tatters caught in the wind.

"Ready!" he called to the company.

Beside him, Shayd pulled an arrow from her quiver, set her bow. Voth threw a silvery barrier around himself and those nearest. The others had weapons drawn. The healers waited farther behind with a canvas stretcher between them.

The bridge lowered further—maybe waist high above the level of the road. And... nothing.

Either the enemy wasn't there or they were ducking really low.

More screams to the south. Something was happening there—in an agony Sutherland waited for the bridge. Finally it descended the rest of the way, rumbling as it met the ground

A crumpled body lay on the span. A breastplate with the all-seeing eye. Seeker Norn.

Sutherland ran forward. When he reached the Seeker he knelt beside her, felt for a pulse. "She's alive!" he shouted.

"Donnal," Shayd exclaimed. "Look over there!"

Sutherland followed his wife's outstretched hand to the south gate tower.

A monstrous beast of woven shadow, easily the height of three men. Ghostly wings. Claws of greenish blue fire. It stalked the guards stationed on the tower walk. Those men were the source of the screams.

"Andraste's knickers," Sutherland breathed.

Was that the Dread Wolf? It certainly looked dreadful, if not all that wolf-ish. Sutherland considered asking Voth, but the elf's eyes were riveted on what looked like a rather conventional duel above the gate. The Inquisitor was there, and the angry elf woman from before—

"Help me up," Parethia Norn said. Her voice was a dry whisper.

Sutherland offered his hand, helped the Seeker to a sitting position. Her coronet of yellow braids had come undone, her face was tracked with dust and tears.

The healers had reached them. The mage removed a healing elixir from his belt and snapped off the wax stopper. The rich, almost sweet scent of concentrated elfroot reached Sutherland's nose.

"Drink it," the mage said.

The other healer, the surgeon, felt for Parethia's wrist to check her pulse. "Compound humeral fracture. That arm will have to come off."

The mage glared. "You want to amputate her sword arm? Aren't you supposed to be a healer?"

"Her humors are out of balance," the woman replied. "It's better to act before mortification sets in. She's already in shock."

"That's what the elfroot is for, you charlatan—"

"Let's get the Seeker to a safe place," Sutherland interrupted. "You can decide what to do with her then. We need to check the gatehouse for survivors, too."

Parethia's eyes never left the south wall tower. "I'm going up there," she said.

"I absolutely forbid it," the surgeon said.

Parethia's voice was a bit stronger, there were spots of color in her cheeks. "I'm needed. Somebody help me up."

"You're in no condition to fight," Sutherland said.

"I don't need to fight, Ser Sutherland. I only need to pray. I'll do whatever I can to help. For the Herald."

Whatever I can. For the Herald of Andraste.

They were words Sutherland had spoken a dozen times. The Inquisitor wasn't a figure from a story, she wasn't just a hero who closed the Breach in the sky. The Herald belonged to the Maker, but she was real. She'd touched his life and the lives of so many others.

He'd been nothing but a coatless refugee with a burning desire to do whatever he could in his own small way. And now he was the captain of an adventuring company, the lord of a keep thanks to her. Ser Sutherland—knighted by the Inquisitor's own hand. He still felt pleased as punch whenever someone used his title. It didn't happen that often, since most everyone thought of him as just plain Sutherland—a fact that didn't bother him at all.

This is the best day of my life.

Every day is the best day.

He met Shayd's eyes. "I'll go with her."

His wife rubbed at her brow. "I shouldn't be surprised. All right, you fool."

"Take the others to the gatehouse. The guards might need help," he said.

The healers argued vehemently with him, the Seeker, and each other, but eventually reached some sort of agreement. Parethia almost fainted when they bound up her arm, but she fought through it like a real trooper. Sutherland helped her stand, ducked beneath her good arm to set her on her feet.

The Seeker clutched a silver symbol of Andraste in her left fist with a grip like death. "Let's go."

Cullen Rutherford had never fought an enemy so perverse, and he'd fought his share of monsters. Apostates. Abominations. Red lyrium-corrupted psychotics. Even an articulate darkspawn with delusions of godhood.

Right, well that last one had been downright bizarre.

He was learning a new kind of despair. It was one thing to be outmatched, it was another thing entirely when the enemy turned your own strength against you. He sent in melee fighters—but the shadow creature's claws made that dangerous, and he lost a few men when the creature swept them from the battlements with a contemptuous swipe. Swords didn't seem to damage it.

He tried archers—but the arrows sailed through the creature's shadowy form without striking anything. He was lucky none of the missiles hit his own soldiers.

He remembered what Solas told him: Templars and lyrium. Nihloras feeds on death. He draws power from the Fade.

"'Nail him down, starve him,'" Cullen muttered, imitating the frustrating elf's words.

Easier said than done. Typical advice from the world's least forthcoming apostate hermit.

Starve him how? For every death, every injury the creature inflicted, it grew visibly stronger. Every time a man died Cullen swore he saw a new shade added to the woven assemblage that made up the creature's abyss-begotten form. How did you tell your men to not die, when they were already fighting for their lives?

Maker's breath. Cullen's jaw clenched. He hoped things were going better on the north wall. A trio of dragons would have been a relaxing challenge compared to this.

He lifted his sword, rallied the men and women around him. "Templars!" he cried. "Ready!"

"Give me more death, alas'len." The creature spoke with a voice hollow as the howling wind.

"I'll give you death," a new voice replied.

Cullen's heart leaped into his throat. "Parethia!"

He thought she might be dead—he thought—.


Sutherland helped the Seeker up the last few steps to the wall-walk. There the man stopped to catch his breath. Parethia looked half-alive, pale braids a mess, red scarf knotted around her arm as a sling. Something clutched in her left hand, a token—

Cullen's throat closed up. He couldn't think about that now. He was too astonished.

He met the two at the top of the stairs. "I'm glad you're alive, but you're in no condition to fight. What are you doing here?"

"I'm a Seeker of Truth," Parethia said. "Don't ask stupid questions."

Cullen's face kept trying to split into a foolish grin. "I won't say we don't need you. We have to cut off that thing from the Fade. The templars aren't enough."

The woman let her arm slip from Sutherland's neck. Gasping, she lowered herself to an outcropping of stone on the parapet. "Tell me when," she said.

Suddenly Nihloras drew into a crouch—the shadow creature sprang over their heads. The monstrosity landed behind their lines at the tower to the south. It attacked the soldiers within reach, slashing with its claws, drawing screams of pain and hatred. Warriors stabbed at it with ineffectual swords and pikes the creature didn't deign to notice.

"To me! Fall back!" Cullen shouted. "Templars, ready philters!"

Parethia's lips moved in a murmured prayer. Cullen met her eyes—the Seeker nodded.

"Now!" he called.

Seeker Norn raised her left fist. "Maker, be with us!" she cried.

Almost as one, his cadre of templars brought vials of lyrium to their lips. Cullen knew the gesture so intimately he could almost taste the burning liquid on his tongue. The templars called on their power. The Seeker lifted her voice—the words of the Chant.

"Those who oppose Thee shall know the Wrath of Heaven—"

A flare of light loomed above the creature's head, a sphere of blinding rays that winked and flashed. The creature's body began to roil, a frenzy of barely controlled chaos. It swiftly gathered mass. A billow of smoke made solid, a living sculpture molded of black dust.

"Field and forest shall burn, the seas shall rise—"

It was working.

Cullen signaled for bowmen—directed warriors to attack. This time swords and arrows struck flesh, whatever that meant for a creature such as this.

Nihloras cowered before the surging light, whipped its head from side to side as though in pain. Cullen rushed at the creature, cut at its face with the edge of his sword. He recovered his blade and then thrust it at the creature's eye, that deeper swirl of blackness.

"They shall cry out to their false gods—"

Nihloras uttered a scream of agony, a blood-curdling wail loud as a hundred hollow voices.

Cullen fell back. The templars continued to feed the light with power.

The creature began to fall apart.

"—and find silence."

The edges disintegrated first, dissolving away like a drop of ink in water. The shadow creature lost shape. It collapsed into the wall-walk, barely more than a cloud of smoke, agitated but unable to give itself form. The greenish eyes of its component shades winked out like summer fireflies.

The thing was dead—or close enough, anyway.

"Praise Andraste," one of the soldiers said in the sudden silence.

The templars allowed the light to die. Cullen turned away, met Parethia's eyes. Dark shadows on her face told of fatigue and pain.

"Well, at least we—"

"Maker preserve us!"

A movement in the shadow—his shadow.

The morning sun cast long rails of darkness at their feet, but now every man and woman's shadow had eyes of blue-green flame. From every spot obscured from light a singular shade stretched and stood upright. A sudden army wielding blue-edged swords, scattered throughout their lines.

Mocking laughter echoed around them—separate snickers from each shade. "You please me! This is even more diverting than I'd hoped. But I'm still hungry," Nihloras told them.

"Time for more death," the shadows said.

Chapter Text

"Go," Fen'Harel told her.

Evin Lavellan fled from the bridge where the Dread Wolf battled the Huntress. She raced to save Skyhold. She raced her own future.

North along the guard-walk, the soles of her boots resounding on the flagstones of the battlements. She traversed the tower that bordered the Herald's Rest and ran up the steps. There were no soldiers here—those not at their stations had fled the dragons.

Glancing down at her kid-leather gloves she saw the palms charred black as soot. If her hands hadn't been protected—. Evin recalled a memory that hadn't happened, an attempt to stab the goddess. Heat had erupted from Andruil's body like gouts of flame from a quenched sword. It was dangerous for a mortal to assault a god, risky even for her, and she had foreknowledge of some of the outcomes. Evin didn't blame Fen'Harel for sending her away. She pulled the useless glove from her bow hand.

She tried not to think how much danger they were in. It was frightening not to know how everything ended, an unsettling helplessness. She couldn't aid Fen'Harel. She couldn't help Cullen on the south wall and deal with the dragon too. She had to focus on the task before her.

It was like trying to catch a falling knife—stepping into the blade. If she grasped the hilt at the right moment the dragon would die. If not—

So many branches ended in death.

Far away, over the line of mountain peaks to the north, she saw the tiny figures of three battling dragons. Two with wings of silver, one with wings of green. A shiver of recognition whispered down her spine. It was exactly the image she'd seen in the Fade. The silver dragons of Mythal dueled with the much larger green. Their shrieks echoed from the snow-covered cliffs. It was hard to tell which side was winning, but she'd seen one of the silvers fall. Pierced, plummeting on broken wings.

That hadn't happened yet.

At the time she'd thought it fortuitous. She hadn't realized the silvers were on their side—sentinels who served Fen'Harel. What else had she missed? What other branches of history burned to ash in the white-hot flame that awaited her?

Her hands clenched into fists, fingernails biting at her palms. She was here now, trapped, and there was no way out—nowhere to go except through to the finish.

Barely more than specks, but the dragons would return. She had to make ready.

Two figures met her when she reached the top of the stairs. A pair of strange beings—among her closest friends these last few years. A slender young man with a small but permanent frown beneath a ridiculous floppy-brimmed brown hat. At his side sat a large hunting cat, a waist-high lynx with bored yellow eyes and a grayish-brown coat. They might have attracted some remarks if not for the dragons, but her spirit friends had ways of remaining unseen.

"Cole?" she asked. "Guile? I wondered where you were."

"We waited with the woman on the bridge," Cole said. "The others came for her, but we want to do more."

She wondered what Cole had told Guile to induce him to help. The tricksome lynx might have no motive but curiosity. "That was very kind," she said.

"He doesn't want to say so, but he worries," Cole explained.

"You'll need cunning to defeat this enemy," Guile said, irritated. "Did you see the danger when you studied?"

Evin considered the spirit for a moment. She nodded slowly. "The vallaslin."

"Which of your people will betray you?" the Fade lynx asked.

The fierce wind caught her hair, streaming it into her eyes. She turned her face from it, gazed at the archers stationed on the north ramparts. Many, most, were elven. Some hailed from the Dalish clans that supported the Inquisition. Others were pilgrims who'd come to witness the Herald. To each Dalish she made the same offer: to keep or remove the blood-writing of the old ways. Not all accepted freedom even after they knew the truth, but Solas had taught her they must have a choice. For some it was too great a step. It marked division from the past, and the past was all her people had. Now that seemed a dangerous indulgence.

The vallaslin of Andruil was the favorite of hunters.

Andruil's unknowing slaves were scattered among her people—no, they were her people—and the goddess might turn them at any moment, seize control, and order them to kill. The precise instant hinged on Fen'Harel's fight, and Evin no longer had insight there. Any weapon she gave them against the dragon they might immediately turn on the silver sentinels, or on each other.

Guile would tell her to separate them or imprison them, even kill them. She wondered what Cole would say.

More than one path forward. She had to choose. Decisions—

The ballistas, she thought, looking up at the guard tower. They had greater accuracy than the other siege weapons, plus their range of fire was limited. An advantage if you were worried about betrayal.

She followed the narrow staircase down to the landing below the northwest tower. Several soldiers were standing there, gaping at the dragons' flight.

"Inquisitor!" someone cried.

"The Herald! It's the Herald!"

They looked to her for hope—she would save as many as she could.

"Blackwall," Evin said. "Change of plans. The silver dragons are on our side."

The bearded human folded his arms across his chest. He didn't seem especially perturbed. "Our friends, are they? Lucky us."

"Get to the ballistas. But don't fire unless we're certain we'll hit the green."

Blackwall rubbed his bearded chin. "Won't that be fairly difficult, the way those beasts dance about in the sky?"

"We can time it," she said. "I'll show you."

She glanced past her shoulder at Cole and Guile. Guile looked away, delicately licking one paw. Cole went to a soldier and whispered something. He gently removed the man's longbow from nerveless hands. The soldier blinked in confusion—then shrugged.

"He didn't want it," Cole said.

"I'm not even going to argue," said Blackwall. The older warden didn't appear surprised to see Cole, but his eyes swept past the lynx without seeing it. Guile hadn't chosen to reveal himself.

Blackwall gathered a small party of guards. They headed for the northwest tower as a group. Evin climbed the ladder and emerged on the roof. The dragons had ranged east. Staring at them under the morning sunlight made her eyes ache.

She pointed. "See those two peaks? Aim the ballista between them."

Blackwall directed the soldiers. They levered heavy wooden poles beneath the ballista's wheels and slowly angled it round. The wooden frame creaked and strained. Evin checked the sightlines, silently urging them to hurry. They had to be ready before the dragons returned. The conditions had to match what she'd seen in the Fade. The soldiers made another series of adjustments before Evin pronounced herself satisfied.

"Who's the captain here?" she asked.

"I am, your worship. This is my team."

It was a young elf, Dilora. No vallaslin. That was good. Her team consisted of a human and a pair of Dalish. Andruil-marked. Not good. She couldn't—

How could she save them? What would she say? If only the Chargers had made it back in time....

Leave the wolves among the sheep and walk away.

She felt Guile's eyes on her, staring.

"Dilora," she said. "Do you see those two peaks? The dragons will wing their way back to the keep. When they do they'll pass between that gap. Aim the ballista for the second peak. When the green dragon passes the first, fire."

"I see, Inquisitor. But what if the range is incorrect? You said not to attack the silvers—"

"You may have to take this on faith," Evin said.

Dilora's entire expression changed. Not quite shocked. She believed. "Of—of course. I mean, we'll do as you say, Inquisitor."

Maker help us, Evin thought.

She left the team with the ballista, returned to the tower walk. She found Loranil there, the hunter from Keeper Hawen's clan. She sent him to help Dilora's team but also to watch over them. Your task is to keep them alive, she told him. Be wary.

He didn't question her either.

On the roof of the Circle tower they got the second ballista in place. As the archers worked to reposition it the dragons veered ever closer. Evin held her breath lest they finish too late. Fueled by her impatience the team slammed a bolt into the stock just in time. The ballista shot, the bow arms snapped.

The massive bolt fell short.

Rhadamys, Andruil's green-winged servant, screamed at the fallen quarrel. The javelin of yew and steel as tall as a Qunari had gotten its attention.

Evin left Blackwall with the team of archers. The figures of the dragons grew ever larger. Were the silvers intentionally leading their enemy toward the keep? She dropped to the wall-walk to wait for the dragon. The ballista shot again. Again it barely missed. Blackwall must have taken charge.

Snatching an arrow from the quiver on her back, Evin sighted the green, leading it, trying to divine the dance of the silvers. Eyes straining, ready for the right moment, knowing a moment missed would never come again. Almost—

She completed the draw—let the arrow fly.

It sped toward the green—where the green would be—chased by runes of destruction to shatter the dragon's protective magic, to hamper and hex.

The arrow struck the green in the left shoulder. A pinprick but one with a magical payload.

Good, she thought. Next arrow.

Beside her Cole aimed his stolen bow. One of the Circle mages lifted her staff. When she saw the woman's fiery darts fly unerringly toward their target she wished again for more battle mages. But it was important to use what she had, and that included the Inquisitor's own symbolic value. She would set an example for the archers on the wall.

The dragons approached the keep, tumbling over each other, claws striking, a confusion of movement and slashing tails. The green dragon hissed—a sound like rain on red-hot metal—then vomited acid.

The smaller silver swerved to avoid the spray, tried to bank. Instead she crashed against the thick wall of masonry that girded the keep.

Soldiers fell to the ground—mostly from surprise, but they felt the impact in their bones.

Rhadamys hooked its talons into the smaller silver, raking her across the belly. Black blood erupted in gashes from her wounds. The silver dragon tumbled down the steep slope of the wall into the abyss.

Enormous chunks of the parapet gave way and tumbled after the fallen dragon. The green dragon's taloned feet scraped the battlements. It rebounded with a great lift of its wings and gave an ear-splitting cry of victory.

One silver had been defeated. The other veered to avoid a similar fate. She couldn't see it behind the highest tower. There were a few confused cheers.

"The green! Attack the green!" Evin shouted.

Another ballista fired.

The green dragon's triumphant swing was arrested mid-pivot. Pinioned, its left wing pierced close to the central joint, the creature's body lurched. It bellowed with agony and wrath. The green dragon settled on the wall-walk. Claws slashed at the soldiers as they tried to retreat.

Evin gazed up at the towers. The ballistas couldn't possibly decrease their elevation enough to strike the dragon where it stood on the wall. If she led it to the wide landing below the northwest tower, the Circle ballista would bear. The other ballista—and its Andruil-marked defenders—would not.

Where was the remaining silver dragon? No time to worry about that now.

Rhadamys sucked air into its lungs, scaled chest heaving, preparing to expend its acid breath. At this angle it would catch most of the soldiers on the wall-walk. Evin threw a barrier over herself and the two spirits. The others were too far out of range. How strong was this dragon? Would her barrier hold?

"This way!" she cried. She activated the Mark, raised her left fist, trying to distract the dragon from the defenseless soldiers.

Here's your glittering trinket, she thought.

The dragon snaked its long neck toward her. It spilled its deadly breath. Evin found herself ducking, useless as that was—

A flash of silver—Fen'Harel's sentinel, the male, raising a shining shield above her. Arlasan.

Green acid steamed and splattered across the walkway. Screams rang out—agony and horror. Caustic liquid bubbled, dripped from the gray flagstones.

"Sand buckets!" she yelled. Then she looked up at the elvhen. "Arlasan?"

"I am commanded to protect the Anchor," the man said.

"Ilgarla?" she asked.

"Perhaps dead. I could not follow."

The pale elvhen cast aside his useless, acid-pitted shield. He swiftly drew a bronze-brightened greatsword from the scabbard on his back. On the skin of his face green droplets were embedded like frozen emerald cabochons. Red welts had formed around them. He was bleeding from multiple wounds.

She snatched up a healing elixir from the cache on a nearby barrel. "Drink."

Arlasan sniffed at the liquid, downed it in one gulp. Then turned back to the dragon. Evin tossed the remaining elixirs to Cole, knowing he would distribute them where they were needed most.

She reached for another arrow, but on attempting to fit it to her bow found the weapon eaten away by acid. The bowstring was severed, useless. She dropped it with a curse.

Knowing something would happen didn't make it less annoying when it did.

No time. No time.

"This way!" she called.

She ran for the tower, urging the survivors to follow. The dragon watched with red eyes narrowed—injured and wary. She wanted it to follow—but also wished it wouldn't. It was suddenly hard to think.

So much noise, so much chaos—a weltering storm pressed against her mind. Arlasan staggered against the assault. Discord in the Veil like the forces of magic itself were tearing the world apart. Her eyes went south to the gate but she couldn't see the gods at war. Every breath she drew was a struggle.

Not yet, she thought. Not now!

The elves began to scream.

Wailing voices, high pitched, an unnerving cacophony of words she didn't understand. A young warrior on his knees, helpless with horror, eyes blanked, face marked with the coiling ribbons of Sylaise Hearthkeeper. A different hand gripping an archer's dirk stained with blood. Andruil's vallaslin glowing like the bars of a crimson cage. A human mage falling to the ground, a black-fletched arrow emerging from her chest as blood blossomed around it.

A hunter near her cried out something in elven, lifted a narrow sword. Arlasan beat him back. The elvhen wasn't fighting the elves or the dragon, he was defending her. The dragon—

She called on the Mark again—summoned the Abyss—

A rift of green light above the dragon's head, tearing at it, tearing chunks of its magic away. The monster screamed.

Her hand was on fire. Power coursed through her, the Veil buffeted her like wind. But it was only a distraction, a ploy for time.

Foolish elves! What's the use of choosing slavery?

Was Guile right? Would she have to kill them all?

Cole shoved something at her. The mage staff she'd placed by the tower last night. "Save them!" he shouted. "You know how to do it! They're not a sacrifice!"

What was he—

Not Guile's way. Not compassion's way either. She suddenly saw what she had to do. A decision born from a moment of deliberate cruelty and desperate loss.

A moonlit grove dripping blue and green—the drowsy murmur of insects, the melancholy call of nocturnal birds. Water lapping softly at the graven feet of two basalt statues to Ghilan'nain. The scent of green living things. Come with me, vhenan.

The tingle on her skin—it wasn't the Veil she felt but the anguish of being together with him for the last time. This wise and complicated man she'd grown to love would break her heart. No branch she'd seen had shown the reason why. She'd force herself to bear the pain, to face the vision she'd foreseen, the words that meant a lasting separation. She'd smile at him, conceal her tears, knowing he brought her here to hurt her. His secrets had finally caught up with them.

I know a spell. I can remove the vallaslin.

And she shook her head, too full of emotion to consent.

Teach me, she'd said.

When he walked away, she removed the blood-writing with the spell she'd learned. The agony of the marks as they shattered gave her another reason to weep.

In the end she'd loved him too much to let go before he said goodbye. She hadn't even spared herself that.

What she was about to do was born out of that moment of pain. It wasn't compassion at all.

You didn't choose freedom, she thought. But this goddess will not claim you from me. These people are mine!

Evin's hand gripped the stave. With the Anchor she ripped energy from the Fade, focused it through the rod of ironwood. She built up the construct, modifying it to her will, and thrust it into the sky like a new star.

Her power went with it—a starvling creation that demanded more and more. It wanted to feed, it needed to grow large enough to reach them all. What Andruil's call had woken she would split asunder.

She drew out the moment, toying with it a little to give herself more time. The frenetic frenzy of the slaves and their victims dimmed. The movements around her grew graceful, almost dreamlike. She could hear their cries like a murmuring song.

She split the star apart. The magic cracked open and pale blue light flashed around them, blinding and blanking their faces. The red arrows of Andruil's vallaslin snapped in half.

Time returned. Dalish dropped their weapons. Faces stripped, skin raw in ribbons, tears streaming from their eyes.

Evin staggered, nearly fell, caught herself with the stave. Exhaustion seized her. Mana-starved, she could hardly stand. Her legs trembled and shook. Nausea pressed at her guts.

Arlasan charged at the dragon. He would need her help—

Lyrium. The potion she'd planted last night. It awaited her. She found herself on her knees, crawling the three steps from the top of the stair. Hands reached blindly for what she knew must be there. Vision darkening. She was about to lose consciousness.

Fingertips scrabbled at the carved gray stone. She found—

Broken shards. Glass pricked fingers. Bright red drops.

Something struck her from behind—a heavy weight like a body blow. She twisted to see her attacker.

Guile, tawny eyes unblinking. He stood full on her chest, claws digging into her leather coat. She felt him pressing at her exhausted mind, boring his way inside.

"Let me in," the demon said.

Chapter Text

"Lord of Malice, accept my offering!" the shadows cried.

The shades spoke as one in a hundred cavernous voices. Donnal Sutherland kicked at the shade warrior that attacked him, that was joined in some mysterious way to the mundane shadow at his feet. The being's sudden onslaught was too fierce. He had to retreat.

Moments before, Sutherland had advanced toward the south tower to stab at the massive creature that Nihloras had transformed into—or revealed itself to be. But just as they'd thought it defeated, the monster had cunningly dispersed. A single horror, massive and clawed, was now dozens of smaller vicious nightmares, each one armed with a blade outlined in blue flame. And they were cutting down Skyhold's remaining defenders one at a time.

Andraste's knickers, Sutherland told himself. This is like something out of a tale.

The sort of tale that didn't end well for those in it. A baleful legend to be told around a campfire about the mysterious and sinister dangers of Thedas. Something he would have eagerly listened to once. Perhaps even retold himself.

Never again, he thought.

His enemy's sword thrust at him—Sutherland parried, riposted—and his sword swept through the shade's body without resistance. He reversed the stroke and hacked at it again. This time his blade seemed to bite but his enemy didn't bleed and the difference mystified him.

Sutherland backed up another step. Sweat ran into his eyes, stinging them. His arms had begun to tire, his armor felt so heavy but it had already saved his ribs more than once. His booted foot landed on something soft. He nearly lost his balance. He raised his guard, quickly glanced behind him, saw the fallen body of a templar. A nearby shade lifted its spectral sword and hacked at the corpse again and again, its weapon rising and falling in a brainless, mechanical rhythm. Sutherland snatched up the fallen warrior's shield.

The second shade turned its pale, greenish-blue gaze to him.

And now he had two to fight.

Voth followed Shayd and the healers and the rest of Sutherland's Company to the collapsed gate house, but his eyes kept straying to the walls of Skyhold. The winged, shadowy beast of Anaris' sentinel—summoned from what unholy fastness he could not guess—attacked the defenders on the south wall. The dragons of the transformed elvhen dueled over the mountains to the north. And the landing above the gate where the Exalted fought—

The gods have woken. They walk among us.

He had to help. It was his duty to help.

He lifted a hand to his smooth face, his hairless scalp, the blood-inked lines of Sylaise. Was this why he had wakened, why he was still awake? Had his goddess summoned him to assist her kindred? Was there purpose for him still?

"Voth, are you going to help or not?" Shayd's exasperated voice mirrored his thoughts.

Voth regarded the human with shock, then caught her meaning. They'd found a survivor, a heathen Qunari buried under rubble. She wanted his magic to move the blocks of masonry aside. But he didn't belong here.

He'd always been afraid to speak, worried he would give himself away. Now he knew his proper function. Shayd had others to assist the Qunari.

He shook his head for her. An apology. "I cannot."

"What? Where are you going, you ass? What's gotten into all these elves today—"

Voth set off at a run across the bridge. Toward the gods. He was needed.

He launched himself through the Veil, catching it in a braid and forcing it to propel him faster. He burned with impatience. Too slow. After all these years too slow!

He watched as Mythal's sentinel fell to inexperience before her foe, the error of youth. He observed Anaris' creature beaten back, feigning defeat, and felt stark terror at the idea of Sutherland confronting such a being without him. He never should have left his friend alone. He sensed the crashing chaos in the Fade as the gods fought each other with tools of the Abyss. The Dread Wolf would rive the Veil itself to win.

Voth crossed under the gate—and fell to his knees.

The rich, engrossing voice of the Exalted One's song. A lilting melody like the lullaby from his mother's lips when he was a fledgling, before he'd pledged himself to service. An earlier time, an age before words and hearth and flame.

Obey, the song said. Obey but if you are bound to another then know my fury and die!

He fell to his knees, helpless before the call. His mouth fell open in a scream.

He still had some awareness. The vallaslin on his face grew hot in activation, a magic he couldn't resist. The Huntress had twisted it as all gods could. It was why the vallaslin had fallen out of fashion, why so few were given the marks in latter years, why only the most faithful accepted them. It wouldn't kill him in itself but it would keep him helpless while her servants took his life.

Sweat beaded on his skin, the metallic scent of fear. Hearthkeeper, he prayed. Is this why you led me here? To die? In your service, O Firebringer, August and Sublime, I give my life—

In the shadow of the towers Voth didn't see the viridian star the Inquisitor raised into the sky. But he saw its stark and all-consuming light.

The rays dazzled him, blue and white and green. All mingled in his sightless eyes and sent his disordered magic spinning. The Herald's light began to burn away his skin.

His vallaslin collapsed. He felt a staggering, punctuated surge of agony as the rune disintegrated one ancient strip of blood ink at a time, as though each inscribed line was a bone that splintered. And then a final stillness. After millennia of service, the Faithful One was free.

Tears streamed down his face, stinging his raw and naked skin. He hadn't thought there would be so much pain. What was he supposed to do now? He had never wanted freedom.

And the Hearthkeeper hadn't told him which god he was supposed to serve.

The God of Rebellion tore the Fen'edal from around his neck—

What exquisite release—to be free, to walk the waking world—the Wolf unleashed. Power surged through Fen'Harel, a monstrous birthright, an intoxicating spire that gleamed in all six serpent's-eyes. He confronted the little goddess, this tiny huntress, stretched to his full height, and howled.

His wrath echoed through the Fade. This was his haunt and lair, his den of stone. His rage would drive the Huntress from it. He would taste her blood.

Her bones would snap. His fangs would drip. His jaws would crunch—

No—not like this—NOT LIKE THIS!

Fen'Harel's lips pulled back from his teeth in an unwilling snarl. His jaw clenched with the effort of integrating his sharp new awareness and the sudden, savage onslaught of emotion. With a fraction of his mind he observed himself almost clinically. The shepherd merging with the wolf, a guest unwelcome in his own sanctum, struggling for the balance to unlock power with control.

He found it as he had so many times before, unfurled into his true form without disguise or reservation. The blunt muzzle filled with jagged black incisors, the long and flicking tongue, the hissing breath that softly screamed of the Abyss. All six eyes were black as the starless void, the pupils a thin gray slit embedded in the swirl of a galaxy. The Veil felt like a second skin, an armor beyond the sculpted, layered spikes that covered his body as a pelt. In his new senses the fever-red sun shone like an inverted azure moon.

The Dread Wolf rose up behind him. Fen'Harel gazed out through both sets of eyes, simultaneously of the Fade and not, in both places.

In the Fade Andruil fitted a silver arrow to her bow. In the physical world, she raised her gold-etched labrys. Both goddesses attacked.

Fen'Harel shaped armor from the Fade, a mirrored pauldron for his left shoulder. His stave would guard the other.

He contemptuously ignored the arrow—it did not even pierce his coat. A barrier of sliding plates met her labrys. The blade shattered a section of his shield. He trapped the weapon with his magic, sent a surge of lightning up its length. Andruil batted it aside.

The Wolf warred with wisdom and won. In the Fade he launched himself at her shimmering, gold-clad form, suddenly grown as tall as he. His fangs inflicted Nightmare, a horror no mere litany could evade.

The goddess fell back. Gold gauntlets sought her scalp as though to drag the terror from her skull. In the physical realm Andruil's eyes met his. She drew a step away, dispelled her Fade form and lifted her hand to summon another as though this was an ordinary miracle. He countered with another Nightmare—she resummoned. Faster, again, testing each other, a blur of fallen goddesses and striking Wolves in succession—countless times repeated.


Andruil the Corrupted laughed at him, a sound made resonant by the degeneration in her body. Crimson flashed in her eyes. "This world was yours to rule, Dread Wolf. And what have you done with it?"

"We can discuss my shortcomings some other time," he said.

"I wake to find our temples destroyed, our works forgotten, our greatest city locked behind the Veil. Quicklings infest the land like fleas. The People are a mere remnant."

"They destroyed themselves by our example," he said. "How could I save them while I slept?"

"It was your duty and you failed. You betrayed a sacred trust!"

"I betrayed? What I did was necessary to stop your madness—"

"I will undo what you have done," she said. "I will wake the Sleeping, unchain the Forgotten, restore the balance of the Fade. I will take my rightful place in Arlathan. First, I will take back what you stole."

He might as well have been arguing with a wall. With Andruil it was ever thus—and yet, a part of him wished he could reach her. He wanted it to be possible. But she could not forgive, and he could not be forgiven.

The Wolf watched, wary, waiting.

A sigh escaped Fen'Harel, he shook his head. "The Arche never did belong to you. What a fool you were to wield it."

Andruil drew herself up, imperious and proud. "I will imprison you for ten thousand generations. You will suffer at my hands, and you will die alone. Watch me kill your beloved dirt-children—here, at the site of your first atrocity. Will you weep when your pets bleed? Will you roar when I split them open and feed their souls to my hounds?"

Why was this her purpose? Why was this the price he had to pay? Fen'Harel thought of the helpless prey hidden in the main keep, his little child among them. If Andruil knew the place he protected she would strike there first. He must lure her from it. How?

His mind worked—the obvious ploy. He would pretend he valued the others more. The ones who fought beside him, who treated him like a friend. Tempt her to take their lives first. Sacrifice the warriors to save the rest. And it was so easy, because his son was there, and his mind would seize any excuse to do what his heart wanted.

He felt sick. He wished he was just the Wolf, who would not care, who was nothing but pragmatic. It was so much easier to be the Wolf. The shemlen were innocent but had no worth in the eyes of war. Their lives were like leaves that fell at year's end.

Two different sets of instincts, two very different mindsets. This was the danger—the lack of clarity.

Because he was distracted from his duty. He had forgotten his own orders. What mattered was the Anchor. Everything else was an acceptable loss. The elvhen knew that. He knew that.

Didn't he?

Fenedhis! These thoughts would be the death of him.

So. Andruil.

A smile twisted on his elvhen face. "Why are you so worried about these insects, as you call them? Have you forgotten your opponent?"

"I defeated you once before," Andruil said.

"Perhaps I wanted to be captured."

"Is that your story now?"

"Come, sister, let us leave this place. Let me welcome you back to this world. Why should we fight? Your weapon is beyond my power to return—Mythal hid it well."

Andruil's red eyes flashed. Her hand tightened on her double-headed axe. "You dare say her name! You think I came here for the Arche? I will enjoy ripping my mother's power from your body, brother. An eternity of torment is too good for you."

He would have accepted a draw, however temporary the truce. But she was too far gone, too deep in her corruption. She was mad to think she could steal back Mythal's dominion. Nor could he return it.

"So be it," he said.

Andruil split herself in two and two again, a phalanx of mirrored twins in golden armor. Each lifted a bow, and each spectral arrow was wrought of a single stolen spirit, tortured for this purpose into a tool of death.

It shocked him deeply—the tragic waste—the savage disregard for innocence. These were not arrows he would ignore.

Fen'Harel hooked his mind deep into the wards and reviewed the state of battle. He found her sentinels defeating his. Scattered minor victories but many deaths. He'd indulged in his duel for too long.

His forms shivered as they relaxed into bloodlust, nourished by a fury he had not released in ages. He would kill without remorse until his thirst for death was slaked.

He would teach these pathetic creatures what it meant to steal his tricks. The time had finally come for the Wolf to intervene.

Chapter Text

"Guile." The Inquisitor choked on the name.

Evin Lavellan lay where she'd collapsed, on the steps below the northwest guard tower where Guile had attacked her. The chaos of the battle for Skyhold diminished from her awareness. The Fade lynx's weight pressed into her, wide paws terminated with curving claws dug into her thick leather coat.

Hard to breathe. She was already dizzy with exhaustion but to lose consciousness now would wreck every single future. Guile would simply follow her into the Fade. She'd tried to save too many with her spell to destroy the vallaslin—burned up all her strength. Now she paid the price.

How had she not seen this happen? How had Guile hidden it from her?

His will strove with hers, fighting to break into her mind. Let me in, he said again. Insistent, relentless. A demon seeking to merge with her consciousness, to enslave her will to his own: Abomination.

Why are you doing this? her thoughts asked.

His eyes, expressionless and golden, stared into hers. You need my strength, little elf. There is so much you do not know.

Evin heard a voice nearby: Inquisitor, someone called out. They thought she'd simply fallen. They couldn't see the demon, didn't know the danger she was in. She was alone—as ever alone. No one would help.

Her fingers groped for her staff, but it wasn't in reach and even if she could grasp it she had no mana. No strength. Nothing left. The Mark in her hand sparked and spat, already discharged. She had nothing to feed it.

Not like this, she thought. Please, I had so much left to do.

Would you prefer to die? the Lynx asked. Its mouth fell open, revealing a nightmare of fangs to threaten her unprotected throat. Make your choice, little elf. Would it be so terrible together? Think of the wonders we could accomplish as one.

No. No—

If she refused he would kill her. How could she leave Revas here alone? How could she leave them? She didn't want to die. But to resist Guile she needed every part of her will, every corner of her soul in absolute accord. Any doubt, any hesitation whatsoever—

His mind scrambled at hers like fingers she couldn't push away. Was death really better? Was Guile her Fate, the path she'd feared, the destiny that didn't scan?

Please, no.

Someone help. Someone help me, please!

"Solas!" she screamed.

A phalanx of goddesses armored in archaic gold faced Fen'Harel above the gate of Tarasyl'an Te'las. Each clasped a recurved bow nearly as tall as its wielder, each with a ghostly silver arrow nocked and aimed at his heart. Whether in feint or in earnest this attack would force his response. The initiative belonged to Andruil.

Fen'Harel trembled with eagerness. His body free of the Fen'edal, his soul free of all restraint, Fen'Harel lifted his staff. In a swirling flash he collapsed his elvhen body. Wolves sprang from the locus, leapt at Andruil's row of replicas.

In the Fade she bit out a snarl, in the physical realm each archer altered aim for a different wolf. Too slow, he thought. His multiple selves fell on her, jaws snapping. Her archers disappeared one by one, burst into nothingness as his jaws closed on their flesh.

But she had too many archers. The ones he had not targeted let their spectral arrows fly.

The missiles struck his sliding barrier and broke through. The shield smashed a segment at a time, like panes of glass in a leadlight. He had bare moments to analyze the magic before it struck. These arrows were the very spirits who had tried to flee Andruil in the Fade. Captured, twisted, warped into weapons—why? Why had she done this? Wretched damnation!

In the instant available to him Fen'Harel could determine no method to undo the damage she'd done. His attention was split too many ways. He would be forced to destroy the spirits or subject himself to unacceptable injury. Some other Fen'Harel would mourn for their innocence—the Wolf did not care. He only hungered for death. His jaws parted in a deadly grin, teeth dripped the ichor of nightmares.

The arrows sped toward him. Channeling his will through the stolen orb, Fen'Harel dug his fingers into the Veil and seized hold. And he shoved the Dread Wolf through as if to loose his actual form upon the shrouded world.

Not entirely of course—that would have taken too much power—but enough to disrupt the entire field of magic. The Veil screamed. Andruil's gemini blurred.

The Dread Wolf's visage erupted in the air above the gatehouse, a chiaroscuro apparition only seen in magesight: massive, demonic, and ravenous. The spirit arrows struck the Wolf and were devoured almost instantly.

Andruil's will fought his. She pressed the Veil, seeking to undo his enchantment and divide him from himself. But she lacked the finesse. She didn't understand the Veil as he did—it was a battle she would lose. She perceived this and abandoned the attempt. He let the Wolf lapse as her duplicates collapsed.

Both gods were weary now. He was injured, subdivided, his barrier broken. She too had lost strength, expended weapons she couldn't replace.

Fen'Harel restored his elvhen form and barely had time to raise his staff to block her instant attack. He retaliated with fire to force her back—they were reduced to these lower energy magics now until they each recovered. He snapped his aura to clear her slowing hex.

"I begin to perceive your plan, Dread Wolf," Andruil told him.

"I sincerely doubt it, Huntress."

"You stole my mother's power because you wish to restore the world you locked away."

He laughed at her. "Why would I rebuild an empire I hated?"

She did not reply. Andruil wove a golden net of mana. She cast it after his wolves, catching one and destroying it. Then she snatched up her own stave to bombard him with blades of ice. They resorted to such measures now, paltry sorceries, because the Veil did not permit a duel in the classic sense. And he was glad of it. It was bad enough in the Fade.

The Huntress ripped chunks from the dreamlike landscape and threw them at him, boulders as large as her hate permitted, but he willed them destroyed just as quickly. They each began to realize she could not defeat him there, only wear him down. His stolen power was too strong. To hurt him she had to target Tarasyl'an Te'las—his mind was tangled through its wards.

Undoubtedly that was why she shifted to the shemlen.

Andruil lifted her gold-chased staff and called upon her retinue with a flow of words. It would waken every blood-marked slave in Skyhold to her cause—forcing hers to obey and damning the rest. It was a power the Wolf disdained. But he could not blame her for using any convenient weapon.

He sent his wolves after the shemlen, sent those fragments of awareness to help in whatever way he could. It would weaken him—but it would make her think he valued their lives. Expend your effort there, he dared her.

"The same as ever—the rebel's secret aim," Andruil said. "How you yearned to take your place among the Exalted. How you must have longed to rule alone."

"I wished to join a pack of greedy, self-important fools?" Fen'Harel's teeth gritted. "A fascinating analysis."

Her imperious, knowing smile—infuriating. "Symbol of a failed uprising, you sold your power. You betrayed the cause you championed."

"I never betrayed it," he said. "I was just the symbol. When I saw I could not win I took the prize that was offered. Far better than capture or execution."

"Always the pragmatist, yet you spurn me because I embrace this power? Not all of us had your fortune—to be born a monster."

"It was madness to embrace corruption, sister. But it came on you in your sleep. I know you had no choice."

He was channeling mana as fast as he could draw it from the Fade and knew she did the same. He was fully immanentized. All it needed was his fingers round her neck and he could drain her senseless. Make her sleep another thousand years until the red lyrium destroyed her body and she died. For the others he might save, the mortals he must protect, the task he must complete, he would kill her. He would try.

He could not guess what shape her attack would take. He must be wary.

And then he heard Evin's voice—her distress—and cursed his reckless lapse. Disaster!

He was about to lose his Anchor.

"To me! Inquisition! To me!" Cullen's voice.

Sutherland turned his head and saw the knight-commander attempt to rally the surviving defenders on the south wall. Sutherland ducked, parried, but his movements had grown clumsy and slow. His shield arm burned with fatigue. He could barely lift his sword. One good blow and it would fall from his hand.

The shade warriors he faced were tireless. The blue light of their eyes gleamed—unholy, merciless. Sutherland backed up, swept his blade in a semi-circle, closing in with Cullen's retinue. He fell in with them, a ring of shields with the shadows swarming around.

They were backed into a corner. Cullen's armor was clotted with his own blood. Parethia leaned against the balustrade, a silver token of Andraste clutched in her hand. She was muttering prayers. Her arm was useless.

I don't need to fight. I only need to pray, Sutherland remembered.

But there was no safe place. The shadows went wherever shadow willed. Sutherland whirled—found one behind him. And he saw its blade lift, and his last thought was of the Maker. But it didn't strike at him.

The shade warrior stabbed Parethia through the chest. Her body jerked against the blade. Blood bubbled from her lips.

"Seeker!" he cried in horror.

"Parethia!" Cullen shouted.

Sutherland bashed at the shade warrior, hacked at it. The shadow collapsed, or fled, whatever it was they did. But there were so many of them.

And then the wolves came—red-eyed beasts, twisted wolves from a terrifying dream.

Sutherland almost dropped his sword—despairing—certain this was another trick of the enemy. But the wolves fell upon the shades. And their teeth clenched tight, trapping the shadows where they stood. The wounded ones grew solid. They even bled.

At last, Sutherland's sword began to bite. Desperate hope swept through him, a final surge of energy.

"Attack!" he cried.

Evin's vision was going dark on the edges. Those tawny eyes were the entire world. Three branches. The first—death. The second—to fall unconscious into certain disaster. The third—damnation.

Guile's teeth snapped. A low growl. His claws drew blood but she was too exhausted to feel pain.

She was alone, again. Always. Alone as when Corypheus had thrown her body against the trebuchet in Haven. Alone as when she'd stumbled through the snow, searching for a path through miles of frozen wilderness.

She had to choose—

Her hand reached out for someone who wasn't there. She gasped and grit her teeth. And she thought of her child and the future she'd tried to build for him. The only right choice—to give her life for the Inquisition. To ensure the Anchor didn't fall into a demon's control.

Her last thought would be for the men, the people, she loved. She would lay down her burden as so many had before her. The final lesson of Mythal's branches: Everything that begins must end.

Guile sensed her decision. The demon hissed with fury.

She shook her head in a grim, silent laugh. Did you really think I would give in? I am the Inquisitor!

Death, then, Guile said. He drew back to strike.

Evin's eyes began to close.

A black blur, the visual impression of a dark compact body. A shadow crashed into the Fade creature, shoving it away. Three pairs of serpent's-eyes gleaming red with rage. Hackles raised, a low and deadly growl. A dread wolf—

Guile hissed again, raised a paw heavy with scythe-like claws and struck at its new enemy, a swift jab of motion. The wolf dodged, avoided the blow, then fell on the lynx. They snapped at each other, furious, teeth tearing, snarling.

Then the lynx fled, slipping into the Fade.

Guile was gone.

Evin dimly sensed the dread wolf through the Veil, standing guard. It waited for a moment, ensuring its opponent had truly withdrawn. Then the wolf returned to her. It nudged its pointed muzzle under her hand as she lay on her side. Six eyes gazed at her. Watchful. Worried.

"Fen'Harel?" she whispered. "Ma lath, ma emma lath—"

He'd come for her. Somehow he'd heard her call.

Exhausted with relief, eyes blurred with tears she couldn't hold back, Evin pushed herself from the ground. She draped one arm around his neck, leaning into the flexible, layered spines that covered him almost like a coat of scales, inhaling his acrid scent of something burnt.

She heard the wolf's exhalation in her ear. His head turned, hot breath against her face. The wolf's tongue swiped her cheek. He seemed pleased.

"Inquisitor!" one of the archers called. The woman drew up short when she saw the wolf. Then she dragged her eyes away, deciding to ignore it—just another curiosity in a day full of them. "Inquisitor, the dragon!"

Evin wiped the tears from her face with the back of her hand. With the wolf by her side she thought she could find the strength to stand.

Cole peered down at them over the stair ledge, his huge floppy hat brimming with a layer of fresh snow, blue eyes shadowed, anxious. "Broken, bleeding, bruised," he said. "I woke her up. I told her how to help—"

Clutching her staff, Evin dragged herself to her feet.

Ah, yes. The dragon.

Chapter Text

When you wake in complete darkness with your head pounding like a forge and your mouth all full of grit, your first hope is that you're on the ass end of one amazing party. And when you realize your arms are pinned behind you and you can't really move at all, you assume you're just recovering from a fucking incredible night of sex. But the longer The Iron Bull lay there thinking about it, feeling what felt like rubble press into his face and wounds in all the wrong places, the more he began to think that maybe he'd come down on the wrong end of a fight.

It was such an unusual occurrence that it took a little while to wrap his mind around it. The terrible, pounding headache made it difficult to think.

What was it that made him wake up?

Voices. That's right. He heard them again—far off rumbling, plus what sounded like people bickering. Then the debris he was buried in shifted, the stale air he breathed became choked with dust, and the pain almost made him faint. He tried to call out, found his throat too raw to make a sound, his tongue swollen with thirst, and gave up on that. But when he felt a warm hand touch his bare shoulder it was the best feeling in the world.

"Hang on, Chief. We almost got you out," a voice said.

"Krem?" he asked. He still didn't have much voice.

"You're awake? You Qunari are tougher than you look."

"Stow it, Krem."

"Hang tight, the healer wants a look."

The Iron Bull screwed his eye shut and stilled his impatience while they lifted another heavy weight from his legs.

"Almost there." Krem kept talking to distract him. "You know, Bull, we thought you went up here to talk to the gate guards, not tear down the whole damn tower."

"What happened?" he asked.

"You don't remember?"

"It's a little fuzzy," The Iron Bull admitted. "I think there were some elves."

"Elves?" Krem sounded mystified.

"What's going on now?"

"When we heard the noise I rounded up the Chargers. We met up with some of Sutherland's people and we're trying to clear a path to get to the keep. Another wall collapsed and no one wants to drop three hundred feet below the bridge if it shifts again. There's some kind of fighting going on—we can't really tell. Looks like a couple dragons."


Krem barked a laugh. "I knew that would get your attention."

He heard the arguing again. "Don't just chuck the stones any which way! Try to avoid my patient!"

A cool voice replied, one without much skill for the common tongue. "You are lucky I deigned to assist you, quickling. You could not have freed the Qunari otherwise."

Then they lifted the final weight against his body and he could see. A door had fallen on him. That explained why he'd been in darkness. It also explained why his brains weren't smashed out on the fallen brickwork like poor Dalish.

The Iron Bull held still while a pair of hands checked his bones for breaks with quick efficiency. The healer found the wound in his back and slapped a bandage on it, something soaked in spirits of elfroot. He refrained from a hiss of pain. A cool wet cloth stung his face, the lip of a leather skin filled with something better than water. The Iron Bull drank from it greedily. Warmth and strength flooded through his body. Potent stuff.

"Nothing like poison to give a man thirst," he observed. "I think that was enough amrita vein to wake a dead horse."

"Stitches' special brew. Still feel like dying?" Krem asked.

"Maybe tomorrow," The Iron Bull replied. "You don't know how glad I am to see you."

"Makes two of us, Chief."

"Dragons, huh?" he asked. "Let's go see about that."

An elf woman loomed before him. He looked up at her and for a moment a memory of three cloaked figures flashed in his mind's eye. She wasn't one of them, but her armor was somehow similar. The same bronze-chased detail. She had cool gray eyes and short clipped hair that was an unusual, dusty shade of red. Musculature that only resulted from intensive, long-term training. He could admire that kind of build.

"My name is Ilgarla, and you are The Bull. You are alive, yes?" she asked.

"So far," he replied.

"Then I have satisfied the spirit's request. I must return to the battle."

"Wait, you're leaving?" It was Shayd, Sutherland's wife. Arguing her side as usual. "We need your magic to clear the bridge—"

Ilgarla stood, brushing her palms on her polished brass-colored greaves. "This is not my concern. Rhadamys has taken wings. I must defend the Herald."

"I thought the bridge was out. How are you going to get up there?" The Iron Bull asked.

Krem was mouthing something, trying to tell him something silently, but it was too late.

"I will fly," the elf woman said, as though that was obvious.

Magic, huh? The Iron Bull stood, tested his steadiness on his feet. All that amrita vein and arbor blessing and he felt like he could take on the world. It would be a short-lived energy, but he wouldn't miss this for anything.

"I'm going too," he said.

"You would join me?" the elf woman asked.

Krem's eyes looked a little wild. "You sure you're up for it, Chief?"

"If it's dragons, I'm in," The Iron Bull said firmly. "You can get me across, right? I have to defend the Boss."

Ilgarla's cool eyes gazed at him, considering. "The Anchor—yes. The Herald. These are my orders also. You would do this despite your wounds?"

"Bah, what wounds. Stitches already pumped me full of happy herbs. What's one little scratch?"

"A warrior. Yes, I fight injured also," she said. "Very well. Please give me a moment before you mount."

"Uh... mount?"

"You may grab hold of my neck spines. Please make sure you do not fall."

"Your uh—"

The elf woman walked past the rubble of the collapsed gate house to the small clearing above the switchback path. A flicker of silver light—and a gracile dragon with silver scales suddenly took up far too much space. He noted several deep wounds—gashes across her belly, fresh scars to her scales—but he couldn't speak for several moments. All he could do was stare with his heart in his throat.

"You have got to be shitting me," he finally said.

Krem handed him his maul. "Think you might need this, Chief."

So. Mounting a dragon wasn't like mounting a horse, particularly when there was no tack or riding gear. The dragon—Ilgarla—lowered herself to the ground—a magnificent, awe-inspiring creature lowered herself to the ground for him—and extended her shorter front arm to help him climb past the sweep of her wing. He braced his toe against her bent elbow and climbed up to her neck. Her silvery neckspines were flexible, something like feathers or a mane. He wrapped them several times around his hands and settled in, legs gripped tight around her sinuous neck.

Hurry up, Qunari, she thought at him.

"This is amazing," he said. "How often do you do this?"

I would be astonished if it has been attempted in the last three thousand years. Hold still.

The Iron Bull checked his maul again, then braced himself. The dragon thrust up from the ground with a single powerful kick of her hind legs. The Iron Bull lurched against her neck, almost lost his grip. Then her wings spread and her rate of descent slowed, and her wings beat again and they were flying.

Flying. Soaring over the bridge spanning the canyon to Skyhold, the wind blurring tears in his eye.

The Iron Bull's heart surged in his chest. "Ataashiiiii," he yelled.

And he heard Ilgarla laughing.

"Where are we headed?" he asked.

That is Rhadamys, she told him. Our enemy. They were headed straight for the northwest wall of Skyhold, where the figure of a much larger green dragon awaited them.

Ecstasy cracked in his veins like a whip. He had to remind himself not to lose hold of Ilgarla's neckspines. If this wasn't a taarsidath moment he didn't know what one was.

Oh shit yeah.

Voth knelt in the dirt beneath the gate house, his hands pressed into the earth, fingers flat against mud. His entire body thrummed with the dweomer of expended magic. In the aftermath of the Herald's spell his face felt tight and painful, as if the skin would crack when he touched it. The marks that bound him to Sylaise were gone. He shivered, unable to prevent a sob. He'd never felt so alone.

He could never go home. How would the temple recognize him without the vallaslin? Who was he supposed to serve now?

The trembling chaos in the Fade ran a shiver along his spine. It marked the gods' bitter struggle. Heedless of the effect on lesser mages, Fen'Harel and Andruil rent the Veil to shreds. His magic would be a twig to them, something to be smashed underfoot unnoticed. If he wished to help, it must be elsewhere.

Where did his loyalties lie? How could he decide? Voth had never trucked with Fen'Harel or his followers, a reckless, self-indulgent rabble by his estimation. To learn the servants of Mythal obeyed him was a shock. Voth couldn't guess what moves in the Game had driven that result.

So much remained unclear about the Dread Wolf's actions. Andruil had attacked Skyhold, but perhaps she only came here seeking her enemy. Some claimed the Huntress guilty of a monstrous crime. Others called her victim. The only voices who might bear witness were either dead or locked away. In times past Sylaise had tolerated her sister, but Andruil's followers had always spurned the Vir Atish'an. And here they were again, slaughtering quicklings with abandon.

If Voth was meant to serve, it wasn't obvious who that god should be. If he stuck his neck out and chose incorrectly, the victor would take his life. More importantly, the Hearthkeeper could reject his soul in the Beyond.

Sound returned to his ears—the metallic crack of swords on shields, the scrape of blade against plate armor. He considered the sounds of fighting and pushed himself up, brushed the dirt from his palms. The Forgotten One's sentinel fought the Inquisition's forces on the south wall. An indisputable enemy. And Sutherland was there. His dear friend!

Voth's eyes blurred from the aftereffects of the removal spell. He wiped the tears and sweat from his face with his sleeve and climbed to his feet. Bracing himself with his staff, he dragged himself forward a step at a time to the narrow staircase that led up to the wall-walk.

He channeled mana to restore his strength. Even in the best of circumstances he would never be a match for Nihloras, Anaris' terrible right hand. Sylaise was a lover of peace and craft—Voth's magic wasn't meant for fighting. Oh, it served well enough in this benighted age. Perhaps he could distract Nihloras, buy the quicklings time to flee. He would be satisfied to trade his life for theirs. Unwanted freedom—what a fearsome gift.

But it seemed he was too late.

A knot of defenders clustered on the wall-walk between the watchtowers, at the north end by the stair. Those few who remained. Others lay where they fell. The walkway was carpeted with bodies—lying in heaps, eyes staring, slack mouths open in silent screams. Red slashes of blood pooled and ran in rivulets. Humans, massacred where they stood. Latter day elves cut down before the Herald's spell could free them. The stomach-turning stench of death and fear.

Voth flinched at the terrible sight. He hadn't seen so much death since the final battles of Arlathan. Everything he'd seen in Sutherland's company had been a skirmish in comparison. And clearly Anaris' sentinel had only sought slaughter. Nihloras hadn't even attempted to force his way further into Tarasyl'an Te'las. He'd stayed to finish killing.


The sentinel still wore the form of shadow warriors, translucent shades with veilfire eyes. Voth couldn't guess how Skyhold's defenders had found a way to slow their regeneration. For a being who fed on death Nihloras' shadows were surprisingly few in number.

The Wolf's incarnations were here as well. These smaller wolves harried Nihloras' shades, severing him from the Fade with their teeth and concentrating his substance. Then the defenders cut the shades down. One at a time.

Voth called up his mana and blasted the shadows with bolts of woven energy. Veilfire eyes turned toward him to evaluate the new threat. Voth realized he'd opened himself to attack—even with the Dread Wolf's help he couldn't stand against Nihloras alone.

"Voth!" It was Sutherland's voice. "Over here!"

Sutherland was alive? Voth was astounded and so relieved. He threw a barrier over himself and wondered if he would reach the humans in time.

But Nihloras had tired of this game. It wasn't nearly as fun when your victims fought back, when it was your toys that broke.

The shades shivered, bursting suddenly black. They disappeared. A wolf lifted its head, surprised that its target vanished. A templar's sword slashed through nothing.

Nihloras gathered himself on the walkway. Surrounded by the wreckage of the corpses he'd made, the elvhen returned to his natural form.

Nihloras' beautifully wrought armor was drenched in gore. Black with it, the life of victims from today and ages past. His olive-tinged face was spattered red with fresh blood. The slashes of his dark brows framed narrow, angry green eyes. A copper crown twined across his temples—Anaris' regal vallaslin had escaped the Inquisitor's wrath.

"Mind yourself, Dread Wolf. I claimed these prey as mine!" the elvhen shouted.

The wolves of Nightmare lifted their heads, teeth snapped in warning. Voth ran beside them to face the sentinel. To his shock, Sutherland joined him. But the human was almost spent. Voth could see his body tremble.

The wolves arranged themselves in a configuration of five like the fingers of a hand. Two stood beside Voth, the others ranged behind to protect the remaining warriors. Hunger burned in their multiple eyes, a rumble of anger emerged from their throats.

Nihloras grasped a stave of wrought shadow banded with silver. His left hand shaped a sphere of blackness. Eyes fixed on Sutherland—the easy mark.

Fen'Harel's wolves broke ranks first. They launched themselves at the elvhen. Nihloras reshaped his sphere into a shield—a swirling twine of shadow. The wolves snarled but couldn't break through. It was fearsome enough the gods could fight in such a way, but Fen'Harel's magic in that form would have limits.

"Hearthkeeper, hear me," Voth began to pray—and despaired because he knew his words wouldn't reach her.

"Back ranks, Voth. I'll attack first," Sutherland said. "The rest of you, defend the wounded!"

Voth clung to silence, stunned. Didn't the foolish mortal realize what they faced? This wasn't a hurlock or an angry dragonling. This was no dispute with highwaymen or starving templars. Here was an elvhen prince who served the Void—sworn to it across life and unlife—body, mind, and soul. They would all lose their lives, and the only being who would live in witness was the Dread Wolf. Better if the quick-children retreated. Voth and Fen'Harel's wolves would cover for them.

"My friend—" Voth began.

He stopped. Because he could see on Sutherland's face how well the man understood. Sutherland had faced Nihloras in his abundant, terrible splendor. Yes, Sutherland knew. He would fight anyway. He would fight for the slim chance.

I may not be much, but I'll help whatever way I can.

They were the first words he'd heard Sutherland say—words that reassured him that whatever the Inquisition was, however lost Voth felt in this foreign world, their mission to close the Breach hadn't strayed from Sylaise's will.

Voth bowed his head. "For the Inquisition."

"For the Company," Sutherland said.

He caught his friend's proud grin. Foolish mortals, both.

The moment fled—Nihloras swept his swirling shield into a single, barbed whip. He lashed at the wolves, driving them back. Voth seized more energy from the Fade. He wove it into a form known only to the priests of Sylaise Firebringer—goddess of skill and fire—a magic that hadn't been attempted since the defeat of the greatest empire the world had ever seen. And he gave it to Sutherland.

A rainbow of flames blanketed Sutherland's armor, mana surging red-pink-violet-blue, extending across his arms to the edge of his sword. Sutherland charged at the elvhen.

Nihloras fell back, evading the flames, but where they touched his whip dissolved. The sentinel struck out with his staff. Again Sylaise's wisdom nullified its magic. Sutherland beat at him with his sword while wolves tore at his heels. The blade caught Nihloras in the face, slashing his right eye and gashing his cheek open to the bone.

Nihloras' will exploded. They were all pushed back through sheer force. His stave stabbed at the sky. Voth looked up despite himself and saw—and saw—

Andruil's will.

It couldn't be. It must not be—!

A stab of shadow hit his eyes. Sutherland fell flat on his back.

Nihloras' wild laughter met his ears. And the elvhen pulled the black around him, fleeing through the Fade.

The wolves were abruptly gone. They were all going to die.

For one moment of wild confusion Voth covered his head with his arms, waiting for the Huntress' final deadly arrow, and when nothing happened immediately he crawled to Sutherland's side.

The elvhen's bolt had blasted through the human's armor. The wound was mortal. His friend, his only friend, was almost dead.

Voth squeezed the human's hand, wondering suddenly how the life of such a very different being had come to matter to him so much. Surely they would both die now. But he found himself desperately casting about, trying to recall a magic that would patch the gash in Sutherland's chest. There was so little he could do. Sylaise's art relied on the body's own ability to heal. He couldn't start from nothing.

"Abelas, ma falon. I will meet you there," he whispered.

Sutherland squeezed his hand. His stare was already glassy. Perhaps his eyes began to see the Beyond. "The best day," the man said.

Voth bowed his head. Tears stung his face for the second time in a day. And lifting his eyes to recite a last benediction he saw—

A little outcropping of stone, just within the reach of his left hand—

The work of some new divinity—an all-seeing providence—

A small cache of glass vials. Health potions.

Oh blessed goddess!

And Voth believed.

The Iron Bull held tight to the silver dragon's spines. He could see their enemy now—the green dragon named Rhadamys. One of the three who'd pulled the gatehouse down on him. One of the three who'd killed Dalish and Rocky.

Payback would be epic.

The green dragon squatted on the guard wall just below the northwest tower, stomping, spitting acid, the usual sort of thing. The Iron Bull could see a couple tiny figures batting at it with swords, maybe a few arrows irritated its hide, but to be honest killing it like that would take forever. If the Inquisitor had anything else she would have used it by now. A war of attrition was bad news if you valued your people, and he knew she did.

Ah—so that was it. They'd managed to take out its left wing. No wonder the beast was stuck on the wall. Pissed, too.

Are you ready? Ilgarla asked.

He wasn't really sure if she could hear him or just picked up his thoughts somehow. But he shouted anyway: "Get me closer and I'll distract it. Then you can rake it or whatever it is you do."

Indeed. I like this plan, she replied.

That was some woman. If he made it out of this alive The Iron Bull foresaw plenty of nights reliving this tale, in every sense. He'd probably never have to buy his own drinks again.

As Ilgarla dove closer The Iron Bull lowered himself along her spine, buffeted by her wings until he was hanging on by a handful of spines, waiting—waiting for the right moment to leap.

He reached back to loosen his maul in its harness. He peered at the green, guessing the distance, estimating how close he had to come to not break half the bones in his body when he jumped. Rhadamys stretched itself up and screamed at their approach.

Not much you can do other than scream, buddy, The Iron Bull thought. And he dropped.

His stomach jerked into his throat—quick, weightless euphoria. He plunged feet first at the green who was paying attention to Ilgarla, not the little Qunari-shaped projectile aimed right at its head.

The Iron Bull crashed into the dragon, landed just behind the ridge of spikes on its neck. He skidded, grabbing madly for anything to stop his fall. And took firm grasp of the beast's scales like he'd done with Ilgarla. He swung himself round, muscles in his arms bunching with the strain, skidded but managed to plant his feet. He really should have fallen, but somehow really didn't.

And then he ran up the back of the creature's head using its spikes as handholds. Planting himself between its two curving horns he took his maul in both hands and swung at the creature's head.

As much force as he could command smashed into Rhadamys' right eye. Again. And again.

The green dragon let out an agonized cry. Its entire body lurched to the side. And The Iron Bull lost his balance. He fell to the wall-walk. He didn't know where his maul landed, didn't even think to reach for it. Just about then all his artificial energy left him, and he was pretty much content to just lie there in a daze while Ilgarla sliced it up with her claws and the other elf guy chopped the dragon into pieces.

The Inquisitor found him a moment later. There was a... wolf demon thing with her. It followed her around like it was standing guard.

"Bull?" the Inquisitor asked. "What the blight did you just do?"

"Did I live? I'm really surprised I lived. Wow."

Evin Lavellan glared daggers at him. "Are you joking? I used everything I had to keep you alive up there. More than everything. Is there such a thing as negative mana? I have negative mana right now."

The... the demon wolf thing gave an unhappy whine. The Iron Bull wasn't sure what to think about that.

"Great job, boss. Give me a moment," he told her. "I'm just going to sit here and enjoy the afterglow."

And that felt like a pretty good time to lose consciousness, so he did.

Fen'Harel felt a pleased smile pull at his mouth. He liked the position of the board. Unless he had missed something major—and he did not think he had—he'd won.

Andruil's sentinels were neutralized. If she had any allies in range she would have summoned them already. No, they had abandoned her.

Andruil had no reply to his split selves—she had already destroyed those she could. She had no more spirits to press into service. She could not rebuild her phalanx so long as the Wolf disrupted the Veil. His queen had destroyed her blood-marked pawns.

He was ready to break through her final barrier. He would have to endure an attack unshielded but he had calculated for that.

Checkmate in three, he thought.

It was time.

Andruil's eyes met his. But she did not look defeated, and that made him hesitate. "God of peasants, they called you. Trickster. But you always were a god of War."

He inclined his head to acknowledge the praise. "You hunted well, sister, but victory is mine."

"How I will savor your hubris over the next millennia," she said.

What could she—

One last attack he must accept—

The Huntress raised her golden bow. A single arrow, a ruby-headed shaft, soared into the air and described a steep half-arc. Vir Assan: The arrow that does not miss.

When he saw its target he felt stunned. But he still did not understand the danger.

A silvery sphere of purest raw lyrium, a god's bauble poised to take the arrow's corruption.

Even as the arrow sped toward its target he surged forward for the chance he would not see again. He demolished her shield, seized hold of her magic. Andruil's eyelids fluttered. The red corruption in her veins permeated her aura—filth, disgust, unclean.

But he did not want to kill her—he hesitated—so little remained from the vanished past. Andruil shared with him the same memories of Elvhenan. She spoke their language with the same accent, one he had not heard in untold ages. When she was gone, who would appreciate what was lost? Who would remember the Huntress in her prime? What cruel necessity brought this to pass?

Which Dark Power forced her into opposition?

And this red arrow—her last attack. What would it create?

Red lyrium in its purest form.

Pure lyrium, raw and uncorrupted, was the deadliest substance known to mortal mage—so potent even the slightest contact would kill a magic-user. Physical interaction with it would knock any mortal unconscious, anyone save dwarves. Fen'Harel was immortal. He had no such concerns for himself.

The wards would survive. They were strong. He had checked and double-checked.

Why was this Andruil's last attack? It posed no threat to him. Any mages under the open sky must avoid it. He should take Evin to shelter immediately.

The wards were strong, he knew they were. If not—red lyrium would corrupt them in an instant. All the ancient magic would erupt.

The wards were strong. Except—except—

There was a flaw.

A flaw— Dawning horror as he realized the truth—

What had he done?

It was all his fault. It always was his fault.

He'd told them to shelter among the frescoes in the rotunda. The wards are strongest there. Revas was there. They all were.

But he'd never completed the last mural. He'd left. He'd left it incomplete. An oversight that wouldn't have mattered if not for this final act of malice.

Tarasyl'an Te'las was doomed.

Chapter Text

The Huntress' final arrow split the sphere of lyrium above Tarasyl'an Te'las.

A hot, red rain began to fall.

Fen'Harel's staff cracked against the gray flagstones. His magic raised a second, hasty shelter over the entire keep. A desperate negotiation for heartbeats—Skyhold's scant remaining time. He'd built a flaw in their defenses and it meant doom to every mortal sheltered there. When Andruil's raw, corrupted lyrium reached the wards the ancient magic would erupt like an explosive.

Tarasyl'an Te'las was lost and he was trying very hard not to think about what that meant. His duty was everything, everything, or this would break him—

There were bare moments in which to act. The orders he'd given last night: He must take the Anchor and go.

The Huntress knelt before him. She had no power left. Harmless, a snake without venom or fangs. A little shocking she remained conscious—perhaps the corruption fueled her. Or hate. He could well imagine that if their positions were reversed.

"No escape for you, Dread Wolf." Her voice was a dry whisper.

"I am sorry to disappoint you, but only a fool would accept battle without a line of retreat," Fen'Harel replied.

"There is no safe place for you in this world. No place they will not find."

"Then I wonder why they bothered sending you," Fen'Harel snapped. The shield already sapped his strength.

"Your throng of mortals surprised me." Andruil lifted her blood-stained eyes to meet his. "Flee, Wolf—leave them to die in your place. Walk away, Rebel God, after your hollow victory. I will find you when I wake a thousand years hence."

Fen'Harel shook his head. He kept silent.

For her there would be no waking. The red crystals would devour her organs faster than her immortality could fight. Uthenera would not heal her. She was too far gone, too late. The corruption in her blood meant death even for a god. The glorious Huntress would die, but he had doomed her long ago.

He could not waste more time on her. The red lyrium rain already seeped through flaws in his hurried shield. A devilish, slippery contagion, it corroded through his magic like vitriol. He could not contain it, only buy a few more heartbeats to retreat. Nothing more.

Fen'Harel willed a new shield to replace the first. He had no more time to spar words with her, no last goodbye. He struck again with his mana—the finishing blow—and diverted his attention to the wolf at Evin's side.

He'd already begun to lose grasp of the shield. The red lyrium ate through the barrier, dripping, devouring—. Fenedhis. He could not stop it!

He rebuilt the barrier over Evin and his sentinels—conveniently grouped together—but another moment's lapse and the rain would reach the wards. It already saturated the stones of the central keep. Any disturbance, anything at all would mean disaster. But that meant—it meant he could not save—

All those who sheltered—

More thoughts he dare not think—a lethal distraction—he forced his mind away—and Andruil stabbed his elvhen body.

Fen'Harel folded up in shock—hands automatically went to grasp the arrow she'd thrust in his side.

One last spasm of will, one last stab of hate. "Elgar'nan sends his regards," she hissed.

Void take you! Blood spilled out between his fingers, red as the corrupted rain. Pain, and the shield to maintain, and the urgent need to act.

He trapped her in a coffin of ice—yet another sacrifice of mana.

He had to remove the arrow from his body as quickly as he dared. But he could not simply pull it out for that would likely leave the point embedded in his flesh. With his magic he snapped off the fletching and shoved the ruby arrowhead all the way through. Agony scraped through his nerves and left him dazed and gasping. He stole a moment to cleanse the wound with fire and almost blacked out. An expensive moment because the lyrium rain won more ground.

We must leave.

He abolished that body, left Andruil defeated in the sorcelled ice, and transfigured the wolf at Evin's side into his elvhen form. With the dragon dead it was quiet here. Her people were helping the wounded.

"Vhenan, we must go now," he said.

"We won, ma lath, you did it!" Evin slipped her arm around his waist so she could embrace him, but the pain was terribly distracting. "You're bleeding—"

She had no idea. You do not hate me yet, vhenan, but you will. You will.

"Arlasan, Ilgarla, prepare to leave," he said.

Evin's head tilted a little to one side. Confused, almost bewildered, her eyes unfocused—the early stages of mana exhaustion. At any other time this would have worried him, but now if anything he felt relieved. She would not be able to oppose him.

Evin gestured at the sky, at the veins of red that tainted the cloudless blue. "Is that your barrier? What's wrong?"

He concentrated on what he needed to do—his magic, not unnecessary thoughts. "Who would you take with us? Choose one or two from among those here."

"I don't understand. Choose what?"

"Skyhold is lost. I cannot—" His voice cracked from the strain of maintaining the shield, the stabbing ache, and the inevitable loss to come. "I cannot save them. We must leave now. Take the eluvian and go."

"I can't leave!"

"I cannot save the others. Hate me later but choose now!"

Horrified eyes—she'd begun to realize—she tried to push him away with hands that shook. He held her tight. She was the piece that made victory possible. He could not lose her no matter what. Even if she hated him he would cling to her—drowning, take her with him.

"Revas?" she whispered.

He felt his face spasm with agony. Another age, another child. Too fragile to protect. Another life he could not save.

He crushed those emotions. The pragmatism of the Wolf—all lives weighed in balance. One small soul against the world. One love, one heart weighed against an entire people.

Evin knew it as well as he did. She was the Inquisitor. Before all this began, when he'd told her they must flee Tarasyl'an Te'las, she refused. She insisted they stay to fight, to protect those left behind. To save all the children, not just hers.

Aren't they important to their parents too?

It was regrettable when a pawn was lost, but to save a queen, to save the world itself—surely they must accept that sacrifice. However painful to endure. He was immortal. He would endure that anguish a very, very long time.

"Those inside are lost," he said.

"That can't be," Evin whispered.

"We are ready," Arlasan said.

"No!" she cried, the torment of an entire lifetime bound up in one word.

"You must not die here," he said. "The Anchor is too important."

Her voice was choked with tears. "I would forgive everything else you've done. But not this. Not this!"

"I'm sorry," he said.

"Please, don't. Don't do this to us!"

She scrambled to push him away, but she was exhausted, too weak to fight. He could not let her go. Not knowing the danger, she would have entered the Main Hall. She would have set off the conflagration.

She fell against him—he caught her arms and held her. He felt the quicksilver gleam of the eluvian's magic as Arlasan brought it to life. The magic was too unstable for them to enter the keep or even the courtyard. But the Wolf could activate the eluvian's magic remotely, drag its focus here. It would embrace the four of them and carry them away.

So little time remained.

They'd come full circle. Once again, all he could tell her was I'm sorry. He would live an apology the rest of her life, perhaps the rest of his. He saw the days stretch before him and the impossible demands of conscience. But he was the one who endured, the wanderer who kept watch. Even if he broke, his eternal path stretched on, a burden he could not lay aside.

And again, as ever, his Inquisitor surprised him.

He felt her muscles stiffen in his arms. She straightened, drawing strength from a place he could not guess at, though he'd witnessed it before.

Evin took his face between her hands and gazed up at him. Sunset eyes intent. "This morning. After the windows broke. You tried to tell me something about the Mark. What were you going to say?"

The Anchor. He shook his head. "That was not—"

"Tell me!"

"We've no time, vhenan—"

"How much time would we have in the Fade?"

His breath caught. His eyes met hers. She could not possibly mean—even with the Anchor—even with his power—

"When have you ever chosen defeat, Fen'Harel?" she asked. "I accept my fate, whatever it is. What are you waiting for? Show me now!"

She fought—she always fought—it was hopeless and she offered hope. He gazed into her perfect eyes and wanted to believe. He loved her so much—how could he doubt more than he loved?

The chance of something better. The certainty of loss.

A tremendous risk. What if he lost her?

How long ago had he learned not to chance the fate of nations? What was a wager worth against the tide? But Evin never gambled. She knew.

He'd found the strength to walk away once before, but he'd left too much behind. Vhenan was a word that meant more than heart. She was his center, his soul, his guiding star.

The road that stretched before him. He could not face that alone—not ever again—

Without her love. Without their child—without even trying—

Consign me to the Void, he cursed himself. And chose.

Chapter Text

Fen'Harel saw only one possible way to save Tarasyl'an Te'las. He could not do it alone, and he could not do it with the Inquisitor in her current form.

Disaster poised over them—raw lyrium, corrupted, ready to scatter its deadly rain over the fortress like a cloudburst. His last desperate barrier began to crack, a pane of glass ready to shatter. When the lyrium hit the wards all would end. He was accustomed to splitting his attention, but reinforcing the shield against such a relentless force was a struggle even for him, one that would inevitably fail. But she would not run, and he would not abandon her.

"In order to attempt this we need more time," Fen'Harel said.

"Then it's a good thing you have me," Evin Lavellan replied.

"Elder, the eluvian is ready," Arlasan said. A reminder.

Fen'Harel felt a twinge of remorse. His elvhen were loyal. If he failed, they would die. But he dared not send them home just yet. He gestured to Arlasan—go. But be ready.

Fen'Harel released the Inquisitor, watched her take two small, unsteady steps back. Evin regarded him, clear-eyed but exhausted, expectant, mouth a narrow line. As pure and resolute as the day she'd woken with the Anchor in her hand, a nameless survivor he expected to die. He remembered igniting the Mark, recalled wishing it might prove the answer to the disaster he'd wrought, the doom he'd unleashed upon the world. But the Anchor had never been the answer, it had only been the mechanism. She was the infinitesimal chance, the spark he'd cupped in his hand and breathed into a firestorm. To him she was a glory, a fleeting, ephemeral triumph, but that was his pride whispering. He could never take credit for her. All he'd done was save her life and unlock her power. The rest was up to her.

And now she wanted to mend his latest fatal error. She would pay whatever price he asked.

He reached for Evin's left hand, felt the jitter of her ice-cold fingers in his. She was afraid, but he found himself smiling a little, amused at the breathtaking hubris of what they would attempt. Time magic was not his specialty, it was Evin's—an astonishing predilection in a mortal. But the startling spell she'd cast to break Andruil's vallaslin had consumed her power. She'd already drawn too much from the Fade, even spent her own life force. He would not ask her to spend more—it was far too dangerous.

Fen'Harel drew forth his Focus, a carved sphere with jagged lines that pulsed with yellow light. It was not his creation—his was destroyed—crafting another would be the work of ages. This orb lacked affinity for him but it would serve.

"Dare I ask where you acquired that?" Evin asked.

He was glad she was steady enough to needle him. "Its owner will not miss it. Are you ready?"

"Ready?" She hesitated. "You always told me not to cast when I'm this drained. What if something goes wrong? Can't you just—"

"The first spell must be yours. Buy us time to work. A test for what follows."

"A test—like the exercises you had me do before we closed the Breach? Drawing on your mana like I did with the Circle mages and their lyrium?"

"The concepts are similar," he agreed.

"I wish I'd known," she muttered. "I would have practiced in advance."

He could hardly remember the last time he'd seen her so uncertain. Not since Haven—perhaps as long ago as Redcliffe. Maybe this was the Inquisitor with her wisdom stripped away, responding to events, relying on her own judgment instead of foreknowledge. A fascinating contrast.

Evin pressed her palm flat against his, laced her thin, cold fingers with his. He felt her will catch hold, drawing from his power. Her presence surrounded him in the Veil. A whisper of eternity brushed against his mind, cold and ancient and immense. Strange, foreign constructs that manipulated time, a silvery pattern of rune layered on rune.

The Anchor flickered, a pallid echo of its usual power. He drew from the orb, patching the shield that kept them alive, feeding magic through their linked hands. He felt her skin grow hot as the Anchor wakened.

The Veil rippled around them—

Time stopped.

The red rain halted in place—droplets frozen, poised in mid-air—ready to fall but helpless to descend.

Fen'Harel studied the enchantment for a moment to confirm its strength. Then he ripped the shield away and luxuriated, gasping in relief as his mana flooded back. His power no longer drained, his magic no longer divided. He raised his free hand, summoned the Fen'edal to his grasp. Control rather than power. Now he could actually do something.

"Time stopped for all the world," he said.

"That sounds impressive," Evin said. "You could say instead the two of us are very, very accelerated."

"How long can you maintain this?"

"Normally? A moment or two. With the orb—I don't know. How long do we need? What do you intend to do?"

Fen'Harel sank deeply into his thoughts.

How much time would we have in the Fade? The question that jolted him into realizing there might be a way.

Was it possible? Certainly. The bare chance. She never would have persuaded him otherwise.

Would they succeed? He had no idea.

He couldn't do this alone—not with so little preparation. He needed a demigod's help. The Anchor would be close enough—once it was fully evolved.

"Skyhold cannot continue in its current place and time," he said. "It will cease to exist or be removed. I must grasp the fortress at the very lowest level, the earliest layer of construction."

"You can do that?" she asked.

"Not alone."

"I ought to tell you," she said. "I don't know how this will end. I don't have any special knowledge."

"That is true for most of us," he replied, "as a rule."

She breathed a laugh. "Right. You simply act and hope it will turn out. You—must know how long I loved you."


"I tried to forget, but I still do. Whatever things you did, you must have acted as you thought best. If this goes wrong—if something happens—it isn't your fault."

Saying such words aloud did not make them true.

Unless she was trying to prepare him. And he suddenly suspected her and he hated that because it distracted him from the other thing she said—the important thing, the stunning thing. She loved him. She still loved him. As incredible as that was, he could not afford to stop and wonder at it.

"I don't want you to be afraid," he told her, "but the Veil does not want to be parted here. There may be some pain."

A small smile—the wry expression in those eyes—those shivering fingers. The pulse of her magic that halted time around them. "Worse than sixteen hours of labor?" she asked.

"That I cannot say," he said.

"Get on with it, Dread Wolf."

He shocked the Anchor into life. Bound to her hand it had always lacked its true potential, dimmed by distance from her core. But it was a start. He grasped the power and rent the immense weight of the Veil, the grinning Wolf, unraveling it, splitting it wide.

He felt her fingers spasm, saw her pupils constrict with fear. The orb thrummed at a higher pitch—the Focus of all his power—the angle of attack.

The Anchor bent beneath the strain—a low-pitched whine, the discordant clashing scream. Not enough. They needed more.

He tuned the artifact higher—

Stars burst before his eyes—the Focus, a blaze that dueled against the sun—the Anchor, its energy white-hot and seething. The scream in the Veil as it shredded and tore—Evin's aura in chaos, tears streaming, incoherent words he could not hear. The fever pitch of magic stirring ever faster as the Veil weakened and the Fade spun into their world. Closer now—the Anchor was the weak point. If he could just—

"Maker!" Evin yanked her hand away—the mindless reflexive action of a person about to die. "I can't!" she cried.

"Don't be such a mortal!" he roared. And trapping her wrist he plunged the Mark from her hand into her skull, driving that fragment of limitless eternity into the place behind her eyes.

Light exploded around them, enveloped her body like a silver pyre.

A column of pure white edged with green pierced the heavens. A massive rift opened, roaring, splitting the sky. This Breach was theirs, obeyed their will, would close at their command.

The Anchor erupted—a pillar, achromatic—the Inquisitor burned alive.

Fen'Harel rammed the entire fortress into the Fade.

Beyond the rubble of the fallen gatehouse, a long, straight bridge rose three hundred feet above a boulder-strewn ravine. Past the second pier, at what seemed to be the midpoint to the vanished third column, the span was truncated. Neatly severed, the stones split as though with shears.

Where the fortress had been was a mile-wide plain, a bare flat circlet nestled in heart of the Frostbacks.

Observing the turmoil fade from the sky, the people of the lake village ran up the path. They found only the fallen gatehouse and the half span of bridge and a few stupefied survivors.

Far below, on the surface of the bare, exposed circle that remained, they saw the curling silver lines of a wardstone in mosaic, picked out in runes of breath-taking intricacy.

Of the Inquisition's fastness nothing else remained.

The wind began to howl under the glaring midday sun. Where Skyhold had been snowflakes gathered in lazy micro-drifts, eddied and swirled like the sigils of a forgotten language sketched by the fingers of the wind.

Chapter Text

The pillar of light doused in an instant like a candle plunged in the deep. The Inquisitor crumpled to the ground, moaning without words, fingertips pressed to her temples. The vanished sun—the cloudless sky receding into green mist—the lick and curl of pure potential, undiluted magic, swelled against Fen'Harel's skin.

The Anchor had kept them alive. Evin Lavellan was alive. He had succeeded.

They were in the Fade—all of Tarasyl'an Te'las—

And as an aggravating chorus of wailing and cries intruded from the terrified mortals around him, Fen'Harel cursed himself for a fool.

He considered Evin for a moment but discarded the notion of trying to rouse her. "Arlasan!"

The sentinel's armor dripped greenish ichor and the darker crimson of his wounds. The elvhen's pale eyes were wide with disbelief—even shock. "Creators! You took us Beyond?"

"The mortals," Fen'Harel said sharply. "So many minds with no training will quickly summon horrors. Help me put them to sleep!"

"As you will—" Arlasan began, but Fen'Harel had already begun the enchantment.

He did not pause to consult his companion but activated the Focus, channeling his magic over the minds farthest from them, touching each soul in turn as though grasping it with his fingers. After a moment he sensed Arlasan shape a similar spell.

A light, drowsy stasis—a sleep without dreams—for to sleep in the Fade is to sink into oblivion without image or thought. Caught in the bubble of time that cradled the fortress of Tarasyl'an Te'las, cut off from the rest of the dreaming realm—let them sleep. Let them avoid demons and spirits to confuse and frighten them or drive them insane.

One voice at a time the cries silenced. Eyelids fluttered and closed, knees buckled. Men and women fell where they stood. The Inquisitor's time enchantment endured. Magic came so much easier here, where a Dreamer's will alone could shape their shared reality. Fen'Harel strengthened Evin's spell and drew it over them. Perhaps they might save one or two from bleeding to death before someone could tend to them.

Skyhold slept. The Anchor was his.

Not a terrible result, considering what he'd feared this morning. Certainly not ideal, but—

It seemed Arlasan's thoughts ran along similar lines, except he was not quite so pleased: "I never imagined you would resort to such a reckless act, Fen'Harel. What have you done to the Veil?"

Fen'Harel tested the greater shroud, found it scarred but stable. If let alone it would heal. "The wardstone remains intact. I doubt our enemies will attempt anything until they understand what we have done. And that will take some time."

"Without the fortress to protect it—"

"I cannot return Tarasyl'an until we cleanse it of red lyrium," Fen'Harel snapped. "One problem at a time, my friend. Believe me I share your concern."

"Do you?" Arlasan asked.

Ilgarla came up the little staircase from the lower terrace where the dead dragon sprawled across the walkway like a misshapen hill covered in green scales. If Arlasan was splattered in ichor, she was drenched. She handed her brother a healing elixir—and scowled at Evin.

Cool, appraising eyes met his. "You should see to your woman, Fen'Harel."

He bit back a sharp reply—what exactly did he object to? "Work with Arlasan to find a sheltered place. Take the worst wounded there, but be wary. I could not prevent the Huntress' red lyrium from spilling through. Whatever you do, do not touch it. Some sleepers may be contaminated."

Ilgarla grimaced. "Why would you risk us on such quicklings? Most of them were useless!"

"Obey or not. The choice is yours." Fen'Harel kept his voice mild.

"We will do what we can to help," Arlasan said. "But you should decide what to do with the polluted ones, Elder. I do not imagine they can be saved."

"That remains unclear," Fen'Harel replied. "But Ilgarla is correct. First I must see to the Inquisitor."

The two elvhen made a small, reflexive reverence, then departed to go about their tasks. He returned to his vhenan.

Evin did not react to his approach. He knelt beside her, gently pulled her hands from her face.

The pillar had vanished but green-edged light blazed from her eyes like sparks of eternity, jagged living flickers of glowing white-green. A Spirit trapped in the physical realm would have looked much the same—those fulminating eyes, an amorphous, barely controlled energy that consumed more than it created.

The Anchor persisted where he'd placed it. No longer in her left hand but embedded in her mind. He felt it trembling as though unaccustomed to its present position—the Anchor throbbed, gathered pulses of magic, discharged them into her body.

"Vhenan? How do you feel?"

"Like I've got lyrium up my nose," she said in a tiny voice.

Then she could speak. He felt relieved. "I can move the Mark—"

"I've been trying. Don't you think I've been trying? It won't stay."

"Let me attempt it at least," he said.

She nodded consent, hugging herself, shivering. His fingers brushed her cheek and the strange light that shone from her eyes like a riddle. How much harder to unwind what he'd done, to repent at leisure what he did in desperate haste? If there had been any other way—

He reached for the Anchor. The magic slipped from his grasp. He tried again, trapped it, cast it down into her hand.

The Anchor paused there a moment—but only a moment. Then it rose like a small, smug bubble, centered once more behind her eyes. When it was seated again Evin shuddered and gasped.

"Was that painful?" he asked.

"Exquisitely," she said.


She caught her breath. "Nerves scraped raw. Oversensitive, like my entire body just orgasmed and every touch will draw a scream. Please don't try that again."

He abruptly pulled his thoughts away from where they were all too happy to lead. "I am sorry—"

"It's not for you to be sorry, ma lath." She lifted her face, but with her eyes ablaze he couldn't tell if she was looking at or past him. "This was always meant to happen. Every time I foresaw it, it happened on its own. Nothing could prevent it. Not even you, Fen'Harel."

"Let me do this much at least," he said. He bent closer—placed a small, chaste kiss on her cheek, drew away the excess energy.

The fires damped—the light dimmed. He could see her eyes again, pupils constricted with pain or fear, then softening in relief.

A temporary cure. He would have to find some solution later.

"Better?" he asked.

"Bewildered," she said. "I see so much further now. I can't remember what we haven't done. Did you already take me to see Revas?"

"Not yet."

"We should do that. I wanted to see him. And you can tell me what we have to do to fix all this."

"One thing at a time," he said, and helped her to her feet.

Tell me what we have to do. He was so grateful for we. As though she stood with him—he was not alone—he was still unaccustomed to that feeling. When he traveled at her side serving the Inquisition he'd relaxed into the sensation of shared purpose, enough to lose his heart. But now she knew nearly all his secrets and still called him ma lath.

Fen'Harel offered his right arm, which Evin accepted. His uninjured side. The other he would have to tend to soon—yet another problem for the list. He let the leather cords of the Fen'edal uncoil from his wrist, dropped the talisman around his neck. It was useless here anyway. In the Fade he was one thing, all senses, too drained to really evaluate or contend with his nature. He felt... at peace.

The Wolf was silent.

That was usually a bad sign—the first indication of something he would profoundly regret later.

Add it to the list.

They took the steps down to the lower walkway, stepping carefully around the fallen sleepers. When they reached the body of Rhadamys, Evin drew to a stop.

Her head inclined to one side as though considering. Then her will clenched—she shoved the massive body off the wall.

The dragon hit the barrier of mist and vanished. Lost in the Fade, a fitting end for Andruil's sentinel.

At the south gate tower he paused. There was too much lyrium spilled on the flagstones and no clear path to proceed. He had by no means resolved what effect the substance would have on Evin in her current state—such lyrium would kill a mortal—but it would certainly corrupt. Treacherous stuff. He would have to consider how the lyrium could be removed without destroying the ancient wards, without altering Skyhold so much as to make it unrecognizable. A formidable problem.

He skirted the gleaming puddle, edged around the corner to the staircase that led down from the wall, and beckoned her to jump down. She did—he caught her, steadied her—and they crossed the courtyard, picking their way carefully around scattered veins of death.

Evin gestured at the lit torches that flickered coolly beside the doors of the main keep. "Veilfire? Is that a side effect of drawing Skyhold into the Fade?"

He considered it. "Possibly. Or it may be your enchantment. How can a fire burn that neither consumes fuel nor expires?"

"Some flames last a very long time without any fuel at all." She sounded tired.

He pitched mischief into his voice. "Do you speak from personal experience, vhenan?"

"Hush, Trickster."

Grinning, he looped his arm around her waist and blinked them across a particularly large deposit of red lyrium. He grimaced on the other side—the wound bit with pain.

"How bad is it?" she asked.

"Such injuries do not mean as much for me."

"Do you need healing?"

"I will address it a little later," he said.

Evin gazed up at the red-dripping walls of the fortress, frustration in her eyes, a small frown of disbelief. "All this—is it even possible to restore? Will we ever put Skyhold back to rights?"

"We will find a way. There is hope—and hope is usually worth preserving."

She stopped. "You don't consider hope necessary?"

He started to conceal his pained smile, then relaxed and let her see it. "Not to persevere."

"I find it very necessary."

"I know you do."

He said it though he knew the steel in her soul. To outward appearances the Inquisition had come easily to Evin Lavellan, but she'd endured her share of dark moments. She had faced Corypheus alone with no hope of survival—and how he had censured himself then, fearing the loss of an expedient tool, never acknowledging the personal interest he already took in her doings. Evin remained useful to him—necessary—but she would always be more than that. And she knew as well as he did the dogged necessity of continuing even when hope was lost—when the wolves howled around her in the night and the only choice was to fall face down in the snow or take one more stubborn step forward. No matter how his enemies pursued, or what price they made him pay, he continued on.

As they climbed the steps to the commander's gate tower—for he intended to take the bridge across to the rotunda—he heard the sound of an argument. Ilgarla and a voice he didn't recognize.

Evin hurried up the last few steps, drawing energy from the Anchor or some other well of strength.

"—friend. You will not move him!" The unknown voice.

"My orders are to take the quicklings with life-threatening injuries to a sheltered place. Who are you to object?" Ilgarla demanded.

"Who gave these orders?" The man's voice sounded angry, barely controlled fury.

"Fen'Harel said—"

"Must I obey the Dread Wolf and his followers in all things, no matter how imprudent?"

A mortal had somehow wakened? When he emerged from the stairs Fen'Harel found Ilgarla—features drawn with annoyance and her usual lack of poise—and an elf he did not recognize. Perhaps they had met at some point, but the man's face was inflamed, a map of blistered lines. He was Dalish, then. One whose vallaslin Evin had removed by force.

"What's going on here, Voth?" the Inquisitor asked. "Sutherland!"

Evin rushed to the side of the fallen human. The elf looked up at her, his eyes red-rimmed and full of anguish. "I thought he would die—I thought we were all dead—but the goddess reached out her hand—she saved him. Do not move him yet, I pray you."

Fen'Harel frowned at the man's accent, the rhythm of his words. He could hardly—

"He'll be safe, Voth, I promise," Evin said.

Ilgarla crossed her arms across her chest. "Stupid quickling! You are supposed to be asleep with the rest."

"If you are a mage, you have some training. You may as well help us," Fen'Harel said.

Ilgarla snorted with disdain. "May as well," she imitated under her breath.

Voth hadn't left Sutherland's side, as though guarding him. "He barely lives. The elixirs need time to act," he said.

"Of course you must care for your friend," Evin said.

Voth gazed up at her. And then a sudden startling transformation came over him—like light that flashed on a facet, for a moment as brilliant as a star. "The potions were yours—you left them—"

"I didn't say that—"

"You are the goddess I serve."

Chapter Text

"Dammit, Voth. I don't want your worship," Evin Lavellan said. "I've had enough of gods for one day."

Voth gazed up at her like a man beseeching a goddess or a lover—lost, enrapt. The man's friend, Sutherland, clung to life despite appalling wounds. They were surrounded on the west wall-walk by the fallen forms of others not as fortunate, by survivors sent to sleep by the quick action of Fen'Harel's magic. No wind, no sun or stars, just a featureless, greenish churn in place of a horizon. Tarasyl'an Te'las was trapped in the Fade, sealed off in a bubble like a treasure concealed in an emperor's gilded egg.

Fen'Harel's lip curled with distaste. Trust an elf to bend at the knee. They had wasted enough time on this nonsense. He needed to heal. Evin needed to rest. He assumed Revas was unharmed but they had yet to verify that or the safety of anyone else in the Main Hall. Let the Dalish suffer a crisis of faith on his own time.

"The Hearthkeeper sent me to you, Inquisitor," Voth said. "You saved us from the Huntress. You broke the vallaslin. Your vision spared my friend. A tool is worthless without a master. I beg you to accept my faithful service."

Accept my faithful service.

The traditional formula rendered in the common tongue. Fen'Harel gave the man a sharp glance, suspicion kindled.

"I thought I had that already, Voth," Evin said.

"I came to you under false pretenses. I feared to reveal my true history," Voth said.

"That sounds familiar," Evin said with an oblique glance at Fen'Harel. "I'm happy you found the potions, but you must know how much was chance. I'm a mortal elf, nothing more."

"That is exactly why you need me," Voth said.

Ilgarla snorted. "The Inquisitor is no goddess. Her only point of interest is the artifact in her hand. A queen of quicklings, a shadow—"

Fen'Harel had no interest in listening to a toddler sentinel denigrate his vhenan. "Are these the same quicklings who saved your life, da'len? I must admit, I never thought to see a Qunari mount one of Mythal's dragons."

Ilgarla's mouth opened, then closed. A blush painted her cheeks.

"It seems you are not immune to unconventional thinking," Fen'Harel said.

"And what has this sentinel of Mythal achieved," Voth said, "in all her centuries compared to Asha'vianar's few years? The hand of fate at work."

"Asha'vianar?" Evin asked.

"The Far-Sighted Woman," Fen'Harel translated.

"I gathered that much. Who's that?"

Fen'Harel smiled thinly. "I assume he means you."

Evin shook her head, frustrated, and Fen'Harel had the sudden insight that if there were any way out of this—some means to dissuade this elf from his path—she hadn't found it. "I'm sorry about your vallaslin. The light usually didn't reach you," she said.

Such a change had come over the elf's damaged face—mostly in his eyes. The sickening expression of one who burned with belief. Voth knelt before Evin, clasping her left hand. And he began to pray—a long, melodic string of elvhen Fen'Harel knew Evin would only understand in snatches.

Fen'Harel's stomach twisted. All the old words: the call to the Creators, the asseverations, the declarations of submission and servility. He longed to interrupt—but that would be unwise and improper. Not that he should care about such things, but the prayer had already begun.

Voth's accent was High Tower—dated to roughly twenty ages before the fall of Arlathan. Such an elvhen, here? A priest of Sylaise hiding in plain sight? A rare and valuable find.

Voth pressed Evin's hand to the crown of his head. His eyes closed. "Let me serve you, ruan'an."

"I didn't catch all that," she said.

"You still have a choice," Fen'Harel told her. "Nothing mandates you accept him to your service."

"He already serves me. He serves the Inquisition."

"Then tell him—a laderas elusan."

"A laderas elusan," she said.

Voth bowed his head. "I am yours, Mistress. Faithful unto death."

"Then hear and obey," Evin said sharply. "I require your silence. You must never mention my... foresight... in anyone else's hearing. You will never refer to me as Asha'vianar in the presence of others. Fate is a harsh mistress. Some destinies are far worse than others."

"As you will."

The elvhen seemed sincere enough, and a trained sentinel would be useful, but contemplating an unknown man bound to Evin's service gave Fen'Harel a curious feeling of displeasure.

"Sylaise was no ally of mine," Fen'Harel said.

"Should that matter? I didn't swear myself to you," Voth replied.

Prickly fellow. "She would wish vengeance for the Protectress," Fen'Harel said.

"Are you saying yours is the hand that slew Mythal?" Voth asked. "Or that you seek revenge on those who did? I am no great fighter, not the kind you would need, Dread Wolf. I will serve Asha'vianar another way."

"For now, look after Sutherland," Evin said. "Find a place where he and the others can rest out of harm's way. And try not to let Ilgarla irritate you. She's young."

"See to the worst wounded, then to yourselves. Rouse me if you need me," Fen'Harel added.

As Fen'Harel followed the Inquisitor into the commander's tower, he glanced behind to see Voth bowing silently while Ilgarla glared daggers at Evin's back. He wondered what Arlasan would think of all this.

They followed the bridge over Skyhold's main courtyard into the round tower. He could not recall the last time he'd been inside the rotunda.

No... that was a lie.

Five years ago—but for him that was little enough time. Five years, and shadows under Evin's eyes like smudges of ash. His neutral politeness. The careful way she held herself, like broken glass that might fall apart at his touch. And how he clutched her misery to his chest, his small and secret pleasure at the evidence she felt almost as much pain as he did.

She told him they were staging for Corypheus. She asked him to accompany her. He agreed to go. No more words than those—and he set down his paints and never took them up again. He left the last fresco as it stood. Unfinished.

He thought he would never return in her lifetime. But the war had already begun....

Evin pushed through the inner door to the rotunda. The ghostly flicker of candles with veilfire flames. Utter silence. Fen'Harel paused there a moment—hesitating at the scent of blood.

"What happened in here?" Evin asked. Her voice echoed in the wide space, distorted and cold. He followed her inside.

Cool, dim light. Mostly shadows. Children asleep—elves and humans—toddlers and fledglings and youths. They sat in rows by age, leaning against each other, eyes closed, lips softly parted. A few servants to mind them, a few elderly and ailing mortals.

No—that was not quite right. They were clustered on one side of the chamber.

There. Bodies. Not asleep. His pulse quickened.

"Revas?" Evin ran forward.

Fen'Harel tracked her around the sleeping mortals, glancing quickly at each face. He reached the dead ones—Dalish. Andruil's vallaslin.

Even here.

Pooling blood. It stained the floor.

Evin found her child—caressed his cheek—Revas had fallen asleep in a chair that dwarfed his small frame, feet pulled up under him. But there were tears in Evin's eyes. "Lysander!"

The spymaster sprawled on the ground. His shoulders were propped against a scribe's desk as though he'd already been laid out when the enchantment came over him. His clothes and cloak were full of blood, dyed black in the cold veilfire light. His open hands were stained with it.

"Is he alive?" Evin asked. "How can I tell if he's alive?"

Fen'Harel had to fight back a sudden, intense surge of jealousy. He knelt beside Lysander—Evin's scent was all over him—and felt for his life force. "He lives."

"He defended Revas." Evin rubbed at her forehead. "When they went mad he had no choice. He had to kill. My spell didn't reach them here. How many others...?"

"You care about him?" he asked—he could not stop himself.

Her head lifted. Was it surprise? "He's a Lavellan. Of course I—" She started to shake her head—her eyes looked past him for a moment. Then she smiled. "Silly Wolf. He lent me his cloak."

He chuckled—his clever vhenan. "Why do I suspect you found the perfect words to placate me?"

Her skin was elvhen'din in that light—silver and shadow—her eyes liquid and warm.

"I only want you," she whispered.

"And you will have me." He lowered his voice, dark and full of promise. He lifted her fingers to his lips to taste them.

"But first, sleep," she said, pulling her hand away. "You're covered in blood. Let's go upstairs."

He was not so easily distracted. He considered it—paying her exquisite body the attention she deserved—perforce recalling the night they'd shared in this very room. Her hands pressed against his bare back, her naked skin, her flushing face and shining eyes. His heartbeat ran riot. He treasured this agony—so very much—the foretaste of something infinitely sweeter. But he had to pause a moment before following.

He claimed Revas from her and carried him up the stairs to her chamber. The many conveniences of life behind the Veil—he repaired the smashed windows with a thought, though the bits of colored glass ended in a lawless spangle. He laid his child on the bed, and kissing Revas softly on the cheek lay down beside Evin. He fell into a dreamless sleep while the healing magic embraced him.

He woke a few hours later, hearing Evin murmur.

She was not dreaming—there were no dreams here—some fever, then. Her eyes were the same blaze of fire as when they'd come into the Fade. This time nothing he did could quench it. He tried to rouse her but she wouldn't wake. Too much magic for a mortal body to contain—his sudden clutching fear.

He waited a few hours to confirm it.

Evin's condition worsened.

They had to leave.

Chapter Text

"Haste for haste," Evin Lavellan said in a loud whisper. She tried the safe house door again. No answer. The cowards were barred inside or had slipped out through the windows. She peered up at the houses around her, ramshackle and silent. No lights in any windows. The city elves were too frightened of the noise.

She cursed silently and tried to think what to do. Father was captured. And he'd told her to run. She'd returned to the safe house like they'd planned but there was nowhere else to go and the hounds would find her—

Wycombe elves knew not to open their doors when the lord's hounds were loose.

She had to get out of the city. She had to get back to camp and wait for the others. They'd know what to do. Together they'd find a way to free her father. He couldn't be dead. The Lavellans had engineered similar things before. All they needed was a plan.

First she had to escape.

Evin boosted herself onto the waist-high fence that wrapped around the small side yard of the house. She ran lightly along the top of the boards to the corner, where the fence abutted another small home. From there she pulled herself up onto the roof.

Every time her booted feet made a clatter on the loose wooden shingles she froze in fear, but the baying dogs were still some distance away. When she was across she had a choice: to try to reach the roof of the next shop, and from there the Alienage walls, or to jump down to the sluice gate and possibly follow the sewage ditch out of the city.

Evin observed her younger self wrestle with the decision.

Think, Evin urged herself. You know where the channel leads. You studied the route. The slate shingles on the roof will crack under your boots. The hounds will hear you. You can't go that way.

Younger Evin wanted to take the roof. It was easier. Cleaner.

And in this branch, that's what she did.

Her luck held until she was halfway across. Then a shingle snapped under her heel and she fell, landing heavily on her back on the rubbish-strewn alley below. The hounds were on her before she recovered her senses. And the humans slashed open her throat, laughing to each other about rabbits fleeing in the dark.

The branch ended.

A different branch continued:

Evin was the first one to return to camp. She stripped her clothes and burned them, nose wrinkling at the stench. She bathed in the still, dark lake for hours, scrubbing at her nails and hair. Finally she changed into fresh garments, Dalish leathers, and settled in to wait for the others. She knew her father wouldn't come.

When morning arrived she shot a fat city pigeon for a scant breakfast. She chewed a bit of chicory root while she reset the snares. Then she rested, curling herself into the branching bole of a great oak, studying a worn, handwritten volume of verse which she read by sunlight through the dappled leaves. But the words only made sense because she'd memorized them years before.

Sometime in the afternoon she woke from sudden noise—the sound of a person approaching the camp.

Evin's mouth went dry. She felt for her daggers. "Haste for haste," she called.

"Leisure for leisure." It was Lucan's voice.

She felt such relief—but her father had taught her caution. She waited to reveal herself until Lucan was fully visible, until she saw his weapons. He gave the private signal that meant he wasn't under duress.

"Good, you escaped," Lucan said. "Revalas will be happy to hear it."

"Father's alive?" she asked.

"He'd badly injured, but we have word. You'd think the shem lords would know better than to send our kind in with a Lavellan prisoner. But we shouldn't complain when their arrogance serves us."

"Have we spoken to him?" she asked, knowing 'we' probably meant an elaborate chain of informants. "Do we have a plan?"

"They... won't hang him until tomorrow."

"Hang? All they can accuse him of is trespassing. I was the one who—. He didn't kill anyone. He's innocent!"

"They'll do it to prove a point, da'lath. They're angry."

"We have to free him."

"He said not—I'm sorry."

"But he's innocent! Why would he stay?"

"He does it because he's innocent. The shems know it, we know it, even the flat-ears know it. He's counting on that. When Wycombe overreaches, the Revered Mother will pressure the lords. The Duke will have no choice but to release the shipment from Tevinter."

"He wants to be a symbol," Evin said. She felt numb—astonished. Betrayed. "So they'll set the slaves loose. He can't. He can't leave me like this!"

"Hush, now, da'lath. He said you might cause trouble—"

She woke a day later on a ship bound for Ostwick. And she knew her father was dead.

The nobles never released the slaves. Her father died for nothing. Nothing but a symbol.

There was another branch for the Evin who observed—one where her younger self inquired about her father's injuries, one where Lucan's face blanched. But the hurt, the lingering distrust—those remained. They were part of her now.

Clan Lavellan repaid measure for measure. Just as the elves of that name had been slaughtered almost to the infant in 9:12 Dragon by the Duke of Wycombe's mercenaries—a dispute over pasturage—those who remained, those who chose the name, paid back blood with blood.

Life for life, death for death. As you judge, so we judge you.

Three months after Evin arrived in Ostwick, the small, secretive band that called itself Lavellan led a raid on a caravan from Wycombe. The raid was a success—but half the slaves died. The remainder disappeared into the Alienages and villages of the surrounding cities. The Wycombe family dropped their plan to expand ties with Tevinter.

Lucan sent Father's bow to her, a long curving length of yew. Evin wasn't strong enough to wield it. She never would be. She gave it to Sindon, who was Father's second, who'd been with him since nearly the beginning. He signed his messages 'Keeper'. It was just a word.

The name Lavellan opened doors among those of the People who knew, those who whispered and kept watch.

The next clan she stayed with gave her vallaslin. She was her father's daughter and couldn't very well refuse. The blood-writing made it harder to hide among the city elves, but she'd spent the first twelve years of her life as one of them. She had no trouble imitating their downcast eyes and cringing posture. If her father hadn't claimed her she'd be a servant like her mother. Well educated—for an elf. An honest living.

When Evin entered the cities she covered the vallaslin with paint, or veiled her face with a length of sheer black tulle in the dark. She mostly worked at night, mostly with poison and accidents. Sometimes Lavellan worked with other groups. The Jennies usually turned up their noses at killing, but sometimes they stirred up a hornet's nest of trouble and Lavellan had to intervene.

It was five years later, after Sindon died and she'd sent Father's bow to Deshanna, that another message arrived from 'Keeper Istimaethoriel'. The trouble in Kirkwall had spilled across Thedas. Her target was a Revered Mother, an elf-blooded human who preached against the Alienage in her city to distract attention from her questionable parentage. Evin's task was to kill her when the Conclave met in Haven. She disguised herself as a servant.

It was something of a surprise when she woke, when she learned her work was already done. All the wrangling humans were dead—as though the Creators the Dalish honored had swept a hand of chaos across the mountains, destroying everything they touched.

If not for the Breach and the Mark in her hand she would have returned to the Free Marches the same day.

But the humans insisted they needed her. She wasn't altogether sure they'd let her leave, and they let her listen in on their councils. One of the People was with them, a hermit mage who convinced her she should stay. A man with decided opinions about the Dalish—opinions she didn't object to hearing—until he began to insist the natural luck she'd enjoyed all her life wasn't luck at all.

"I'm no mage," she told him.

"Indeed, for you are untrained," he said.

She felt confused—she'd never heard of the hedge mages he mentioned. One either had magic or did not. There was no in between. "I can't do magic," she said again.

"Then why do you never run out of arrows?" he asked. He'd grown increasingly exasperated with her lately. She'd begun to avoid him because of it, but he'd cornered her.

"I don't shoot the ones that miss," she said.

She kept her voice calm because that was how she reassured the humans, because she liked the contrast with his irritation, because compared to crawling through a sewer of filth with her father left for dead, nothing really seemed that bad.

"Will you at least try to take some instruction?" he demanded. "Herald, it isn't safe!"

"Instruction from you?"

"No—." And he fell silent.

"You often boast about your skill, Solas," she said with a teasing smile. "You don't want me to admire your abilities from a new perspective?"

"I have no desire to be your hahren," he said.

And suddenly they'd been looking at each other a moment too long—and she glanced down, feeling a guilty blush settle on her cheeks.

Adan tried to teach her. She was hopeless at everything but dreams, but with a staff in her hand she could manage basic elemental conjurings. For fighting she always took her bow. And she still never ran out of arrows.

She secretly believed the magic was a side effect of the Mark, even if Solas told her otherwise. Luck was one thing, magic was something else.

The humans didn't care if she was a mage or not. They kept giving her more power, teaching her what they knew of war, sending her out to handle problems of increasing complexity. The refugees, the rifts, the fighting between factions. She was good at managing—she'd learned how at her father's knee. But she wasn't invested in the Inquisition, never felt herself an integral part of it.

Until Redcliffe.

When she saw the devastation Corypheus wrought she realized there was no difference. There were no shems, no rabbits, no flat-ears. When the demons got them they were all just meat.

Redcliffe was the first time magic made sense to her, the first time it actually seemed useful. When Alexius used his amulet she felt a corresponding surge within the Mark—revealing a new landscape, like a door that opened onto time.

Fen'Harel had been right, but not in the way he thought.

There was no luck. There were only the branching paths—a labyrinth of lines. And now she was trapped in the nexus. Decision and decision and decision—the Mark consumed them all.

Chapter Text

Evin Lavellan walked the tightrope of her life, a precarious line that coiled ever deeper into history, into variations that never happened. No future here, no choices to consider. Just branches curling in upon themselves. A new soul pulsed in the center of her universe, a silver star set in a spiral arc. If magic was a song, an unending symphony like Fen'Harel described, this was its cadence. And when the Mark beat in time, the silver light unfurled another layer of complexity. A fresh embroidery frayed against the edges of her life with nowhere else to go. The spiral deepened.

She willed herself to wake up.

The Mark surged—expanding further—jagged pain. Nothing changed.

She was already awake. Simply—trapped.

Could she get back? The question presupposed she knew where she'd been.

Skyhold. Fen'Harel. A battle fought at withering cost.

Faces. A man disfigured, marks like burns. Voth?

The wave returned—it was difficult to sustain her thoughts when it receded. She had to concentrate. If she matched up her memories with the spiral, could she find the proper place?

Evin willed herself to inspect a section of the gyre, boring down into the lace of lines. Her life, her experiences. The Alienage, Lavellan, the Inquisition—in greater detail than she'd ever seen before. They were all her lives.

She drilled down into the layers, searching for the present. She found images reflected in differences so minute as to be worthless. A footprint placed at a slightly different angle. A hand that brushed one leaf instead of another.

Surely, surely there was a way out. She had to find it. She had to endure.

The Mark pulsed again—the spiral expanded—the lines branched, and as they did the pain clenched inside her, a resonance ever higher-pitched.

Skyhold—the pillar of light—they were inside the Fade. Fen'Harel turned to her and asked her how she felt.

She pushed up from the ground, ignoring him, and walked past the sleeping soldiers to the Circle tower. This was something she hadn't done. It hadn't happened. But as she climbed the ladder to the roof and emerged under the roiling sky she thought it must be true. Blackwall's crew scattered around the ballista, and everyone was dead—

"No, please no," she cried. She began to sob, clutching fingers to her lips, and shut her eyes.

How had she chosen to save Sutherland—and ignored her other friend?

How much time had there been to prepare? Could she have found a better way, blind as she'd been?

What else could she have done—and as the Mark pulsed she fell to her knees, huddled against the pain. She was once more inside the silver flames. And Fen'Harel asked again—

"Vhenan? How do you feel?"

Her hands pressed against the smooth stones of the walk like she could push the dizziness away. Pain and grief and the wild, desperate need to escape. She staggered to her feet. The northwest tower, a shorter climb. Dilora's crew. Loranil sprawled across a spilled barrel of sand. The dragon's acid had melted most—. She looked away, swallowed bile. Everyone was dead.

The brilliant fire claimed her—the fraying lines—the expanding silver came as a flood.

She emerged again and this time she screamed at him. "How could you bring them here? Why couldn't you find another way? What do you even need me for?"

His face blanched with the same pain she felt. But she only had moments before the pain took her. Every time it took longer to recover. Every time it was harder to track where she'd been.

He followed her south of the watchtower to the pool of red lyrium. And she walked through it heedless of the danger, ignoring his startled cry, and pushed through the doors of the gate tower, into and out.

The walk above the gate where he'd fought the corrupted goddess. Splinters of ice stained red.

"She's gone," he said.

Evin walked on. She reached for the door latch to the commander's tower—and the Mark pulsed—and she had to start all over.

"She's gone," Fen'Harel echoed when they reached Andruil's shattered coffin again.

"Someone claimed her," Evin replied. Not much emotion left. She'd seen too much already, trapped in this—but there was more to check.

Past the commander's tower, the staircase she'd climbed with Fen'Harel in memory. Voth and Ilgarla argued. Words she'd heard before. Evin strode past them to the cluster of living victims mingled with dead.

Cullen? she wondered. Were you spared?

Voth had saved Sutherland with the elixirs. Had it been too late for the commander?

She found Cullen's body—bloody from wounds—felt for his life force through the stasis as she'd learned from Fen'Harel.

Cullen lived. Thank the Maker, he lived despite his injuries. Voth and Sutherland had defended him.

Parethia was dead. And so many others. Her people—who believed in her—who'd fought for the Inquisition. And now everything they'd defended, every person they'd tried to save, they were all trapped in the Fade, as she was trapped in the gyre of her life and couldn't escape.

How many destinies would fail from this? Even if drawing Skyhold into the Fade had saved lives, how could the Inquisition survive without its greatest fortress? Could she find a Homeward Path in these new conditions? With the gods themselves at war, set loose upon the world?

Everything had changed. Everything she'd built—all for nothing.

When the fire claimed her again she didn't have the strength to move. She couldn't find the will. She could barely remember what hadn't happened and what had.

"Hold me, ma lath," she whispered. "Before it begins again."

Chapter Text

Tarasyl'an Te'las slept—soldier, lord, and servant. From the common folk huddled in the cellars to the nobles hiding in their beds, from the runners collapsed on the floor of rookery, to the final surviving sliver of the garrison held back from Nevarra. All were muted and unmoving, with only the whispering Fade to convince Fen'Harel they lived at all.

The infirmary was a warehouse for the worst injured—silent, shrouded forms with uncovered faces, fast asleep. Filed in rows, filling every available cot and bare spot on the floor. Fen'Harel passed among them, edging sideways when necessary to avoid treading on their feet or outstretched hands. The air smelled like dust—and blood, and worse things—but there was no odor of decay. Mortification required time. That at least the magic held at bay.

"I sense no corruption," he told the sentinels. They followed like a retinue, closemouthed and severe.

Arlasan gave a nod, but if the news comforted him his somber eyes and detached expression did not reveal it. Ilgarla watched. She had not removed her brittle gaze from Fen'Harel since the review began—mostly, he thought, to avoid acknowledging the presence of Voth.

Evin Lavellan's newly sworn sentinel had proved invaluable. The elvhen had located the quartermaster's lists and steward's ledger, and now he leafed through them on one of the Ambassador's portable writing tablets. "Twenty-six life-threatening injuries," Voth said. "Another eight with mortal wounds. We placed all here without regard for rank or station."

"All?" Fen'Harel asked. "I do not see the spymaster."

"Lysander Lavellan?" Voth consulted his notes. "The Inquisitor's lethallin was not seriously injured."

"He was covered in blood," Fen'Harel said.

"Mostly his enemies', it appears. We placed him in his quarters."

A trained mage and the Inquisitor's clansman—such an elvhen would be useful here. Fen'Harel debated with himself. The logical course would be to wake Lysander and enlist his help. And yet Fen'Harel could not quite bring himself to do it. Call it jealousy or instinct. The man had saved Revas and many others, but Fen'Harel did not trust him enough to let him run loose without supervision. Not when he himself was preparing to depart. He would let Lysander sleep. In stasis he would be nicely out of the Game—whatever version he played—but close at hand if Evin needed him.

When Evin awoke—she would wake—she must

Perhaps Fen'Harel was taking out his agitation, even his anger, on the spymaster. If so, his vhenan was the reason. However terrifying Evin's condition, however horrified he felt at his hand in it, she did not seem in immediate danger of dying. There were a thousand things that had to be done immediately or not at all. With some reluctance he had judged—and Voth agreed, for whatever that was worth—that they might delay another hour. After that they would leave to find a cure. Perhaps when no longer in the Fade she would stabilize. Perhaps he would be able to wake her.

She lay in her bed in the tower, insensible, consumed with fire nothing quenched.

His remaining time was a delicate balance, an exercise in judging the importance of competing tasks. There seemed a never-ending list. Surely they realized he could not solve them in an hour. To save Evin he would leave everything undone.

"What else?" he prompted.

Voth flipped to a new page. "Sixteen healers and mages. Eighty-three soldiers in arms including officers. Twenty-six staff, servants, or—"

"Is this a roster?" Fen'Harel asked.

Voth paused his recitation. He looked up from his notes. "A list of dead, ruan'in."

"We are not certain what to do with them," Arlasan said.

"They are not our people," Ilgarla said.

He saw the dilemma. Most of the Inquisition believed in Andraste. They would desire cremation. Yet neither he nor the sentinels could hope to identify each of them. Was it permissible to inter them under such circumstances, the nameless dead? And what was to be done with the bodies otherwise? Another intractable problem.

If he were to wake Lysander—no. No.

"Some are corrupted," Voth said.

That decided it. Fen'Harel could not allow any red lyrium to persist. It would destroy all chance of restoring Tarasyl'an Te'las to the world. The living who were contaminated—there was another decision he must make. But not today.

The dead were already dead. Those who knew them would remember. He could do no more.

"Observe the usual honors for the fallen, then consign them to the Void," he said. "What else?"

How long was this hour going to last? How many other matters must they submit to his consideration? This was what he hated about authority—as soon as it existed, everyone lost all will to decide what was important on their own. Was his wisdom so much greater than theirs? Could they not trust their own judgment, as he entrusted them with his life? His patience wore thin. And Voth insisted on calling him ruan'in, but Fen'Harel could not be in the position of correcting another god's sentinel—

But Evin was not a god—that was the very problem—the risible predicament. And here he was, too frantic to spare his friends even an hour of his time. After everything they'd done for him, the least he could do before he left was listen to their concerns.

Evin would have laughed at him, or found the right thing to say to soothe him. He wished more than anything she was awake and well. He would trade Tarasyl'an for her. He would do it in a heartbeat if he could keep the lives they'd saved.

Offer me that, Forgotten Ones, a voice whispered.

Fen'Harel followed his companions from the infirmary, up the narrow stair to the walk above the wall. Arlasan drew his attention to the lifeless wards, indicating the runes that needed immediate repair. Fen'Harel strengthened some, nullified others. A hasty patchwork was better than allowing the fortress to crumble around them while he toiled.

"Everything in the courtyard will be lost," Fen'Harel warned.

The sentinels gazed back, eager and alert. All they wanted was another miracle. Fen'Harel strangled a sigh and turned to his work.

Wiser to use the orb for this. He manifested it, pondered the jagged pattern of yellow light. He did not quite like this Focus—it was not exactly his—but it was well suited to such tasks.

They stood on a pristine part of the wall, near the spot by the northwest tower where the dragon had fallen, where he'd saved his vhenan and doomed her. No lyrium contamination touched this place. The sentinels clustered around him—and one part of his attention observed Arlasan subtly jerk Voth to stand nearer to the rest of them.

A green-tinted, mirror-like bubble enclosed the fortress—Skyhold's normal, mountainous landscape had vanished with the physical world. Fen'Harel regarded the courtyard and the red-veined walls for a moment. Then he built the pattern in his mind, a correspondence to the keep before him in successive layers, vertically by height. The lower walls, the smaller structures, rising to the central hall and finally the high tower Evin claimed as her own.

The wards were idle. He could do as he liked.

His magic swept across the surface of the keep like a scouring fire. Drawing on the orb's power he scraped beneath the courtyard, abrading the contaminated soil away to the bare rock, casting it into the void. Then he built it up again, filling in the gaps with rubble, smoothing out the surface. Finally a pattern of stones, incongruous with the other masonry but matching the habit of his mind, the graceful, sweeping shapes he preferred in his art. The trees—he wished he could spare the trees. He could not risk it. Let some future denizens replant them.

He blasted the gabled roofs next. Shingles splintered. Wood charred and withered. It would not keep out a drop of rain.

But there was so much he could not do—had no time to do—that would be the sentinels' task. Red lyrium had seeped into the mortar, between the seams of the stones themselves. It would require close attention or it would kill. And he had omitted anything on the outer walls, where many of Skyhold's defenders still lay, enchanted and asleep. The remaining work would be the task of years, a small army of Dreamers. He could not spare either.

The depleted orb dragged at him. Weariness almost made him stumble. Too much in too short a time, but he was satisfied.

Evin. Finally. At last, they could leave.

He faced his sentinels. "If you would activate the eluvian—"

"One more thing," Arlasan said.

They climbed the stairs again to the walkway above the gate. There he had left the defeated Huntress, but the nearly lifeless body of his sister had disappeared. His sentinels had reported it some hours before, though he'd been too distressed to really attend. Now a haunting trace of dweomer blackened the shards of Andruil's coffin—this was what Arlasan desired him to see.

Whatever power had stolen Andruil away, Fen'Harel was willing to wager it had no intention of consigning her body to oblivion.

"Anaris, then?" he asked no one in particular.

"Anaris," Ilgarla agreed.

"His servant, rather," Voth said.

A moment's inattention had led to this. Yet Fen'Harel struggled to imagine a scenario in which he could have managed everything else and prevented it. Perhaps he could ask Evin to point out the path when she was restored. It was inscrutable to him.

Fen'Harel had spared his sister out of pity and reluctance to stain his hands red, a moment of regret for their shared history, for what she once had been. And Anaris would consume her, as Fen'Harel had consumed the remnant of Mythal.

What an improvident bounty to unleash upon the world—the Dread Wolf's latest gift to Thedas.

The Lord of Malice, restored.

Chapter Text

Fen'Harel focused his gaze on the motley pattern of glass in the windows of the highest tower of Tarasyl'an Te'las. With a swift contraction of will he transposed himself to the balcony. After all manner of worries and delays it was time to leave. He would no longer tarry while his love slipped away.

He pushed through the door into her chamber. Evin Lavellan lay insensible on a bed draped with the Inquisition's insigne. The Anchor pulsed, and her heart beat like an echo, a reflex stirred in tandem. Her chest rose and fell in the steady rhythm of life, but for how long? She didn't answer when he called her name. She didn't wake when his magic summoned her. There was only the incandescence of the Mark, a luminous, all-consuming aura that enveloped her body, a radiance edged with green. The light was almost blinding at her head.

He never should have unleashed the Anchor.

Perhaps there had been an unconscious wisdom in Evin's naive insistence, in her repeated manifestation of the Anchor in her left hand. He had thought it foolish, a pointless limitation. But he had never known what it was to be mortal; he had always been more than elvhen. And he could only move forward in time. If there existed a stable magic to undo his actions he would have used it ages past.

He had to decide what to do with Revas.

Fen'Harel paced to his son's bed, the absurd contrivance Voth had crafted with a Dreamer's casual fillip. It was an unsightly contraption, completely at odds with the rest of the room's décor, almost as large as Evin's master bed. Voth had shaped it like a boat, a fanciful version of a pleasure craft that might have existed in Arlathan during the florid excesses of the 6th millennium. Three shades of lacquer—tan, green, and blue—accented with crystals in similar hues, like something intended for a cosseted princeling. Smooth, curving planes shaped the hull and swept upward at the stern to form a canopy. Revas slept beneath it, his little face untroubled by dreams. Fen'Harel's hand brushed his son's soft cheek, felt the warmth in his skin.

He wished he dared to wake him. But a child so young, in the physical Fade, with no instruction to ground him—and the suspicion of a mage's inheritance, perhaps even a Dreamer—not even the Wolf would hazard it. Even if it were safe, who was he to Revas except a new acquaintance of his mother's, a hahren who lacked white hair? Revas did not know him, and Evin was in a trance. She could not comfort her child if he cried.

And Fen'Harel realized he could not take Revas with them. Not when the child presented such an attractive target to his foes, whichever guessed or already knew the truth. The enigmatic magic that sealed Tarasyl'an Te'las from the rest of the Fade protected those who sheltered within. Fen'Harel had personally touched the spirit of every being who slept inside its walls. This was the safest place Revas could be. To Anaris, the son of Fen'Harel was a potential hostage, a toy to be broken on a whim to bait the Dread Wolf's rage.

Such things... had happened to gods before.

Perhaps when Evin woke—when they reached the temple—she would have a different opinion, and he would listen. For now he must act as he thought best, however poorly his decisions had turned out thus far.

Voth was the first to arrive after him—the only other Dreamer. Fen'Harel ignored him. He walked to the bed where Evin lay and grasped her hand, testing the power trapped beneath her skin.

"Where do you intend to go?" Voth asked.

"Its name is Hellathen Viran," Fen'Harel replied, "though it may have had another in your day. There are clever healers among the temple's guardians." There were also skilled mages—in case he had to pursue another path, one he had no intention of contemplating until there was no other choice.

"Perhaps I could learn from them," Voth said, "though I do not hope to match their skill."

Fen'Harel felt puzzled. He met the sentinel's eyes. "I expect you to remain here. You do not wish to abandon Sutherland."

Fen'Harel read a sour, stubborn expression on Voth's blistered face. "I have no intention of leaving Asha'vianar," the elvhen said. "Besides, who else will tell Lady Sutherland her husband isn't dead? You? Such matters are too lowly for your attention, Dread Wolf."

"I need you here," Fen'Harel said.

"For what reason? I am no great healer, ruan'in. What do you imagine I might do that your servants cannot?"

"Neither healer nor warrior, it would seem," Fen'Harel snapped. "What good are you?"

"That is for my mistress to decide."

"You may have noticed Evin is unconscious. I feel certain she would want you to stay here, to help cleanse Tarasyl'an Te'las and guard her child."

Voth advanced a step toward her bed. "If she were awake I would happily obey such orders from her lips. While she sleeps, however, my duty is to safeguard her physical body." The man's eyes blinked rapidly as he sensed the Wolf's displeasure. He rushed to say—"How long is it since you've been among your own people, Fen'Harel? Have you forgotten this already? I am her sworn sentinel."

Perhaps Fen'Harel was simply unused to navigating the loyalties of servants who belonged to others. He had grown too accustomed to never being challenged—or questioned only mildly, by his favorite sentinels.

A short, rueful laugh escaped his lips. "I suppose I have forgotten," Fen'Harel said. "And you are correct to remind me."

Voth made a slight bow—lowering his face to hide his relieved expression.

But it left them dreadfully short-handed. He had intended to take both Arlasan and Ilgarla, but he could not leave the keep completely undefended. If only there were others he could wake, if only the injuries were not so severe. He thought of his friends, Evin's loyal companions. Grievously wounded or dead fighting his enemies, for reasons they did not even understand. He had never brought them anything but disaster.

When he reached Hellathen Viran he might send a small, trusted party here into the Fade to help the wounded. A few he might spare from other duties. For now, one of his sentinels would have to remain behind.

One small advantage he considered—Anaris preferred his shades, so much that he was not averse to creating new ones. But his servants lacked the intelligence to attempt much of an assault on a fortification such as this. There were other enemies, but of necessity Fen'Harel must first consider the one who claimed the Huntress' power.

The Fade always had certain advantages, but Anaris was not as foolish as his former lover. He would not fight on ground that favored Fen'Harel. His way was to lure his enemies, to draw them into a noose they wove themselves. Such tactics were foreign to a wolf's way of thinking. Perhaps that was why they had never much acknowledged each other before.

Fen'Harel did not look forward to sharing this information with Varen and the others. There would be relief, perhaps even celebration, when he returned with the Anchor, no matter Evin's condition. Their cheer would be short-lived.

Fen'Harel knelt and gathered up Evin in his arms, bracing her small, unmoving body against his chest. Voth watched in silence as he carried her out to the west balcony. Fen'Harel gazed down at the silent keep, the swirl and spin of light magic in the Fade, and willed them into the small garden.

Skyhold's eluvian rested where it always had, in the long, narrow chamber where Morrigan had hidden and abandoned it years before. Its active magic cast a blue uncanny light on Arlasan and Ilgarla, who already waited there. As Voth appeared behind him Fen'Harel carried Evin farther inside, then knelt to hear her murmur a fragment of a word.

Fen'Harel looked up at Arlasan. "There's been a change of plans," he said.

Arlasan simply waited. Ilgarla made a little grimace.

"Voth has chosen to accompany... Asha'vianar to Hellathen Viran. Arlasan, I must ask you to stay here."

Arlasan simply nodded, as though it did not matter to him one way or the other.

"Do your best to make what repairs you can. The integrity of the barrier should be your priority, but I hope you will do what you can for the injured. I will send what help I can."

"I will do as you say," Arlasan said.

"Unacceptable," Ilgarla exclaimed.

"Yes?" Fen'Harel asked.

"You must have a larger escort than just myself," she said. "This—sentinel—is worthless! He does not know any relevant forms! I lack my full strength and you yourself were injured, Honored One. You should not travel with so few to protect you."

"I protected myself quite well in the past with no escort at all." Fen'Harel's voice grated.

"Those were different times," she said.

"Do you have something to suggest, or do you object simply for the sake of nattering in my ear?" he asked. "I will not leave Tarasyl'an Te'las with no guardian at all and we do not have anyone else to bring. Or do you suggest we wake some of the Inquisition forces to accompany us?"

"Yes," she said.

Fen'Harel drew in a quick breath, then stopped. "I—. You do? Whom would you bring?"

Ilgarla made another small grimace. "I will tell you, but if you laugh I swear I will make you regret it."

And so Fen'Harel's small group departed the sleeping fortress—the Dread Wolf, the sleeping Inquisitor, two sentinels... and a Qunari.

Silence reigned throughout the fortress. The quiet of the dead and the peace of the living who slumbered without dreams. Hearts pulsed fitfully and paused in the stillness of slowed time, chests rose and fell almost imperceptibly with the diminished demands of breath.

Arlasan walked among them in his lonely vigil.

He walked the outer walls, using his magic to clear the lyrium a tiny section at a time. He paced the infirmary, checking the progress of healing elixirs on the wounded. He lifted the sleeping bodies of the fallen and laid them in the barracks. When his magic was spent and he was exhausted, he lay down and slept wherever he was. He ate small meals of oat cakes cooked with his magic, satisfied his thirst with portions of beer drawn from casks in the Herald's Rest. He waited as long as it took for his strength to return, then continued with his duties.

The sentinel patrolled the veilfire-lit halls like a sentry, scanned the placid green mirror of the sky for any signs of difference, paused at the eluvian to check for messages that didn't come. Days passed in an unchanging way, but he was elvhen, he did not require change. He drifted through the uncountable hours like a creature in its natural element, the physical Fade.

Perhaps one day after Fen'Harel and his party departed, perhaps two—it was difficult to detect the passage of time in the Fade, if time indeed had meaning there—Arlasan passed through the hallway that ran above the great kitchens and into the Main Hall. His route passed by a door. There was no reason to stop there so he did not.

Behind the door a man slept. And when Arlasan was quite far away, a force gripped the sleeper's heart like a fist. Lysander's eyes sprang open.

The spymaster woke—he woke, and wept at the ecstasy of his master's presence.

Chapter Text

The merciless grip of the god seized Lysander Lavellan's heart. The spymaster sat up in the bed, clutching his chest as though he could snatch away his master's ghostly hand. Divine and transcendent power lit Lysander's body on fire—nerves igniting one by one, twigs set alight. Tears of pain and euphoria streamed from his eyes, a quiet groan escaped his lips. He would obey, as he was sworn to obey, not because he was now Lavellan but because he was not Lysander.

The Lavellans had never served his god.

Lysander had been Dalish once, he knew that, though his master had swallowed his name and his memories like he swallowed all other shadows. The rest was eaten. His appearance, he knew, was different. He had been terribly ill—only his master's hand had saved him from the spreading corruption. And he had once asked his master his original name, but the answer was mere noise, two syllables devoid of any meaning. Lysander had magic and the name Lysander because it suited his master that he had them—useful attributes for a servant. He had no memory of Tamlen.

Wake and serve me, the voice commanded.

Lysander obeyed.

He felt the latent effects of a stasis spell, some sort of time delaying magic. Lysander lit the candle over his clothes cabinet with a bare whim—and then wondered at the unusual whisper in the air. The Veil? What had happened here?

The last thing he remembered was the fight in the scriptorium, the lower level of the round tower where Evin told him to send Skyhold's children. He had intended to return to the rookery to monitor events during the battle, to respond if needed or send messages, but one matter and then another had captured his attention. And then the Dalish had surged into the room, Andruil-marked and mad, violent beyond sanity, with a savagery that overcame their lack of training. He'd thanked his private god then he was no longer marked for the Creators. He had killed them, all three, while the children and their minders hid behind chairs and tables. When it was all over he remembered lifting Revas into his arms and checking him for injuries, terrified his lethallan's child might have come to harm. But the only blood on him came from Lysander's own hands, and then a wound Lysander had somehow endured but overlooked left him dazed and weary.

Lysander no longer felt any injury. When the grip on his heart released he felt hale and well.

Lysander swung his legs over the side of the bed. And his eyes caught a flicker of movement—the tiny window in his room—the glass that faced east, and wasn't broken—

The reflection of a man—his face hooded and cloaked—in darkness blacker than a raven's wing. A slightly paler shadow set in deepest ink.

"Master," Lysander said.

What have you concealed from me, puppet? A dark and hollow voice came to his ears as though from within the glass.

"How could I hide anything from you, who see and know all that shadows shroud?" Lysander asked.

Flippant servant. Proud and pleased. Deceit is my tool.

"One you taught me well, Great One. Why have you woken me? How can I serve you today?" Lysander asked. "What... happened? The air feels strange—"

The Wolf has indulged in another imprudent action, one for which he will pay dearly. It is time for us to act.

"Gladly, lord," Lysander said. Though he wondered when he would pay for his imprudence. Surely his master had not failed to notice the way his heartbeat leapt when he'd been accused. No, the god knew. It was folly, but Lysander was a fool.

He tried the door of his room and found it unlocked.

Careful, puppet. Fen'Harel's creature prowls these halls. Do not attract his notice.

If stealth was needed his master had come to the right elf. Lysander hadn't spent so many years among grim Lavellan warriors to fail to learn how to move without sound.

Lysander slipped the door open and peered into the hall. His ears strained for any sound—a dead hush and nothing more. Why so quiet? What was the imprudent act his master mentioned? Where was everyone?

The battle—what had happened?

The hall was lit with a single veilfire torch. Lysander summoned a smaller flame to light his steps, walked to the end of the hallway and peered through the slender gap between the door and its frame. Veilfire... the Veil. The Fade. Fen'Harel had taken them into the Fade.

Lysander recognized the sensation of chaos on his skin. It was familiar to him—as familiar as a mirror and his master staring back.

No wonder the god was so potent here.

Lysander extended his senses. He found no trace of movement. If anyone walked within these walls, they were far away. What had happened to the Inquisition, to Evin Lavellan and their forces? Were they all inside the Fade? It was curious that he himself still lived. He knew he was not a particularly valuable tool. His master had others to replace him.

He found the first sleeper in the stairwell.

Lysander knelt to check the woman's pulse and found her warm and living. Asleep, then. Perhaps there were others. Perhaps Evin had found him and that's how he had woken in his bed. He assumed she still lived. He thought his master would have told him otherwise. The lord took great interest in her doings.

Was the Inquisitor still here? Did she sleep as well? Was she injured? He had to know.

On the next landing of the stairwell were more windows, but the leaded panes were shattered. Lysander's boot crunched on triangles of broken glass that littered the steps. His master's face, a hundred versions of the hooded mask, stared back at him from countless shards.

Find the eluvian, his master told him.

"I will," Lysander said.

But not yet.

Lysander followed the stairs up to the Inquisitor's chamber—and his master's gaze followed him in every pane of glass and mirror. Evin's bed was unmade, the linens pulled back. None of her servants would have left it so. Something had happened, but he saw no blood. Perhaps Evin had fled. There was another change to the room, one that immediately drew his attention. A rather grandiose and fanciful bed shaped like a boat. Lysander approached it, not certain what he'd find.

Revas. Evin's tiny son, peacefully asleep.

Evin had gone, but her child was still here? He couldn't imagine it. Never. Not in an age of years. Yet he didn't sense her presence.

What do you care about this child? his master asked.

"The son of my lethallan, lord."

I sense something you have left unsaid.

Lysander shook his head—and saw his master's visage staring back at him from rows of windows on three sides. Surrounded—looming—the images moved in unison.

Tell me.

"You already know—"

What would you hide from me, puppet?

"Nothing!" Lysander shouted.

The windows flared—his master's face in starker contrast—a crash of light as from a storm. Lysander sank to his knees before the god's fury. His entire body shook with fear. The child slept, peaceful and unknowing, but for how long?

I who eat all shadows, I will know this thing you hide, the god said.

Lysander had to obey. He had no choice. The god had not threatened him yet—but all he had to do was threaten Revas. And Lysander could not bear to risk Evin's child. He had to reveal the truth and pray the secret would appease his god. If only—if only it would satisfy him.

Lysander recalled the laughable non-deception, the bland enmity in the elvhen's cool gray eyes: Evin has not acknowledged me as Revas' father, and I cannot claim the honor....

The truth, his god demanded.

"Revas is Fen'Harel's son," Lysander whispered.

Silence. His master's image did not move.

Considering, contemplating. Then—

You have done well, and you shall be rewarded, the hollow voice promised. The hooded man stared down at him from panes of glass on three walls. Pleased. His master was pleased.

Lysander winced. His god's rewards tended to involve dismemberment—

Before the eluvian, one task....

Lysander crept through the corridors of Skyhold. He stepped carefully around the sleeping bodies of men and women he'd lived among for nearly three years. He listened for the sound of any other waking creature, but encountered no sign of Fen'Harel's minions.

Lysander had two new burdens—a heavy bundle wrapped in cloth, and a slim, sharp knife.

When he reached the eluvian he paused and gazed into the glass. For a moment a black city flickered there, and then a man Lysander didn't know—an elf, a Dalish hunter, with pale innocent eyes and yellow hair. And then his master's hooded shape appeared—a powerful, muscular elvhen cloaked in black.

Lysander stepped through.

He had brought no other traveling supplies, no food, just a waterskin, because the map to his master's temple was etched on his heart. He no longer heard his master speak, not here. Not yet.

Every night when he paused to rest he whetted the edge of his knife. He honed it until the blade was sharp enough to split a thread lengthwise.

After three days' walk he reached the temple. A place hidden by trees, a shadow opening unto deeper shadow. Lysander descended the stairs into a pit. Half the corridors were knee-deep with water.

Before the altar Lysander placed the cloth-wrapped bundle. He felt the merest whisper of his master's presence.

He drew his knife, pulled back the cloth that covered the burden he'd carried, and lifted the blade to his own face.

His left hand took firm hold of his tongue. And with the other he stabbed deep into his mouth, sawing across in one swift, brutal movement. He severed his own tongue, and the blood filled his mouth faster than his own gurgling scream.

My tongue is silence, he thought.

And then before he could lose consciousness he knelt, and bared his chest, and drew the knife across his belly, cutting deep. Blood splashed out onto the altar with his flopping ropelike guts. Lysander fell onto his face.

His last true thoughts were of the cloth-wrapped sphere, the fragments of the orb of Fen'Harel, and the magic that erupted with his life's blood.

You are my vessel now, the god said.

And then his master claimed him.

Chapter Text

The moment Fen'Harel's feet passed the threshold of the eluvian, the Inquisitor stirred in his arms. Evin Lavellan murmured and lifted her head, blinking her sunset eyes at the tangle of foliage that closed around them in the Crossroads. Fen'Harel was so startled and gratified that he nearly stumbled.

"Watch it, elf," Iron Bull said. "Don't drop her."

Fen'Harel's breath caught with giddy relief. He carefully lowered Evin to the ground. "Vhenan?"

Evin winced and looked up at him. A trace of the Anchor's light flickered beneath her pupils—a gleam of sunlight filtered through deep water. "It stopped repeating. It doesn't echo anymore." She frowned at him. "But I can't stay here."

"We will leave soon," he said.


Evin's head slumped against his chest, her eyes closed again. She looked exhausted. Her face was almost as colorless as her ashen hair. He recalled the pillar of silver flame that enveloped her when he'd unlocked the Anchor. Here, now, that worrisome light had already diminished. Perhaps she would recover when they returned to the living world. Perhaps a healer at Hellathen Viran would know what to do. He hoped it would be that easy. When was anything that easy?

Power always comes at a price.

The two sentinels returned from their brief scout up the fern-bordered path. Iron Bull turned to watch them approach.

"No sign of enemies, but we must not delay," Ilgarla said. Her hands fidgeted with the hilts of the two long, sheathed knives on her belt.

Voth said nothing. He knelt beside the Inquisitor and felt for the pulse in her wrist. Evin did not stir.

"She woke," Fen'Harel said, "for a moment."

"The Inquisitor's illness could be linked to the specific circumstances of Skyhold," Voth said. "Perhaps it was triggered by the barrier you created, Dread Wolf."

"An educated guess? You said you were not a healer," Fen'Harel said.

"I said I'm not a great healer, ruan'in. That and total ignorance are different things."

"Spare us your excuses, da'hahren," Ilgarla said.

"Yeah. Maybe we should go," Iron Bull said.

A sensible idea. But though Fen'Harel shook Evin gently and whispered in her ear, she did not wake again.

"You cannot carry that woman through the Crossroads, Fen'Harel. What if we are attacked?" Ilgarla said.

Fen'Harel lifted his brows. "You would prefer I leave her here, I assume."

"Oh, for shit's sake. I'll carry her," Iron Bull said.

"I—. Thank you, Bull," Fen'Harel said.

Ilgarla was correct in one respect: There were delicate spells he had to reset before it would be safe to leave. Fen'Harel forced his attention from Evin and returned to the eluvian—the only door to a crucial, hidden world.

The Qunari hoisted Evin over his massive shoulders. One enormous hand grasped her right thigh and wrist to hold her steady. "Tell Boss I charge extra for non-redheads."

"Gently, please. The Inquisitor is not a roll of carpet," Voth protested.

"That's true," the Qunari said. "She jiggles more."

Fen'Harel's enchantment almost fractured. Voth gasped with audible disgust.

"What? I'm not allowed to notice? Inquisiboobs are a thing. Most she-elves don't have much of a figure." Bull's face creased in an appreciative grin. "Present company excepted."

"Do not be obscene, Qunari," Ilgarla said.

"Obscene? It was an observation," Iron Bull replied.

"Please refrain from referring to the Inquisitor with disrespect," Voth said. The man had a quiet voice, but every word told.

"No need to get all excited. She's my boss too," Bull said. "It's interesting to actually hear you speak, Voth. Say, doesn't Sutherland's company get a labor bonus? I don't mind carrying around swooning ladies, but the Chargers have a contract."

"We are an adventuring company. We don't—"

"It is fitting that you serve as beast of burden, Qunari," Ilgarla said.

"Hey, if you elves would rather carry her yourself, go right ahead. I'm not a pack animal just because I have horns. And muscles." Bull flexed his free arm—his bicep rippled.

Ilgarla snorted.

"We are grateful for your help, Bull," Fen'Harel cut in. "I am certain it amuses the three of you to bicker, but would you mind attempting silence for three minutes? This is careful work."

Ilgarla shut her mouth—and glared at Bull when she thought Fen'Harel would not notice.

Fen'Harel's preparations took several moments to complete. When he was satisfied the group set off through the vine-shaded paths. After a while they reached a clearing, and he stopped to scatter the light, bending it around the overgrown trail to hide the eluvian from detection. No one who was not keyed to him would be able to find it again.

There were other magics, deeper sorceries to conceal mirrors in the void, but he had no time for them now. When they reached Hellathen Viran, after he had resolved the mystery of Evin's sickness, it would be yet another thing for him to contemplate.

Each worry was like a stone, a burden piled in his arms. And there were so many—it would take very little inattention to drop one. Tarasyl'an Te'las. Spreading corruption. His enemies. The people. The ageless, savage war, resumed in a world unready for it. Evin. Their child. He could not afford to think or feel like a mortal. He had to be more.

Iron Bull had never visited the Crossroads—he had numerous questions. Answering them proved a welcome distraction for Fen'Harel—both from his doubts and from the casual way the Qunari gripped Evin's shapely leg.

"So, are we in the Fade?" Iron Bull asked, pushing aside a frond that had grown across the path. "I'd pictured something a little less jungly."

"My people call it the Crossroads," Fen'Harel said. "A place between. Beyond the physical world, distinct from the Fade."

"Aww. I hoped this made me the first Qunari to physically enter the Fade. That would be pretty epic. A magic mirror is all right, though."

Fen'Harel stopped to stare at him in astonishment. "Where did you think we were before? Did not Skyhold appear strange to you?"

"Now that you mention it, the sky was kind of weird."

"A castle full of quicklings claims the same honor," Ilgarla told him. "I do not think walking the Fade is much of a distinction."

"Well, damn," the Qunari said.

They walked further into the Crossroads, Voth and Ilgarla leading, Fen'Harel and the burdened Qunari trailing. Wherever the path was clear Fen'Harel gathered his small party in the palm of his magic and jumped them through the intervening space, replacing a journey of hours with minute leaps of thought.

As they neared the next eluvian, Ilgarla grew more and more alert. Before they'd left Tarasyl'an Te'las she had cleaned most of the ichor and blood from her garments, though her armor was acid-pitted from the fight with Andruil's dragon. Now she loosened the two long knives in her belt and tested the lashing of her bracers.

When they arrived at the eluvian Iron Bull settled Evin on his other shoulder, shifting her with no apparent effort.

"Is it really necessary to manhandle her?" Voth asked.

"There's got to be a better word for that. Elfhandle? Womanhandle?" Bull said. "If you brought me along to fight maybe someone else should carry her."

Voth gazed up at the imposing, muscle-bound Qunari. His own frame was almost pathetically slight. "I would be happy to do so," he said.

"Right," Bull said.

Ilgarla was correct to make her preparations. There was no way of knowing what waited for them in the natural world—any number of chilling circumstances sprang to mind. The transition would be easier if the Inquisitor was awake, though Fen'Harel wished he could let her rest.

"I will try to wake her," Fen'Harel said.

Bull lowered the Inquisitor carefully to the ground.

Fen'Harel placed his fingertips on her cheek and tried to find a spark of consciousness. He sensed the same worrying, intrusive energy—the one that seemed to consume her, that she could not control. Fen'Harel drained it from her as he had before, absorbing the excess into the mantle of divinity shouldered by the Wolf.

Evin's eyelids flickered. Her eyes focused first on him, then on their companions. "Fen'Harel? What are you doing here? When are we?"

"We are still in the Crossroads. Do you remember?"

She gave a long, frustrated sigh. "No."

"Do you feel well enough to walk for a space?"

"I don't feel unwell," she said. "Just confused."

"Stay a moment. Voth, would you give her your arm?"

Fen'Harel stirred the eluvian to activation—the slightly touchy busywork of rekindling the ancient magic. He reached through the glass, extending his senses like shadowy fingertips to probe lightly at the other side. How many times had he done this in his former life? How many times had he sent someone through to never see them return? How many more?

Fen'Harel dragged the seeing-glass' focus to one of their cache points. "I sense no one waiting for us, but that does not mean much."

"I will go first," Ilgarla said.

Fen'Harel nodded. The sentinel drew both blades, crossed them before her, and stepped into the roiling lucid blue of the mirror.

Fen'Harel scrutinized her through his stretched out senses. Ilgarla checked the wards, then motioned with one dagger.

He nodded to Bull. The Qunari stepped through the eluvian's frame.

"Time to go," he said to Voth, drawing Evin's other arm through his. Together they walked the Inquisitor over the threshold of the mirror.

Then he released the eluvian's focus, spinning it quasi-randomly to minimize the chance they could be followed. They emerged in thick forest, but he recognized the place. No more than a day's ride from Hellathen Viran.

It was mid-afternoon. Cloudy, cramped, and colorless.

All at once the Fen'edal weighed a thousand tons. A dead civilization—hung around his neck.

Leaving the Fade, departing the in-between realm of the eluvian, losing the embrace of archaic and sympathetic magic—for a moment it was too much.

He panicked at the cage, his heartbeat crashing in his ears, thrashing at the Veil. This world was a prison. It kept and held him like a vise and he could not stretch his lungs to breathe. He lowered his gaze, focused on his own fingers, his hands, his arm linked with Evin's. That much was real.

He had built this world. He had made the prison... thinking it was freedom.

"I can see now," Evin whispered. "Where are we?"

"The Wilds, vhenan."

"The Wilds. Do we seek the Well?"

"No," he said. That too was gone. "Not anymore."

"I keep saying strange things," she said. "I'm sorry. I really do feel better."

"It's all right. Rest with me for a while."

He sat with her while the sentinels went to summon the halla. She leaned against him, but she was preoccupied, perhaps as dazed as he was. He brushed his lips against her cheek, inhaled her Fade-dusted scent. He perceived the Anchor inside her like a second heart, always active, never dormant. Its incessant pulse drew sparkling, seething waves of magic through the Veil. The untapped potential pooled and tapered in discrete, jerking stages. She was fighting. She wasn't yet defeated. His brilliant star—perhaps she would someday learn to master it.

Ilgarla led the halla back to them. Fen'Harel rose to help them decide how to allocate the mounts and the supplies they retrieved from the cache.

Bull was surprised at the size of the mounts—he seemed to think all halla were the stunted creatures the Dalish reared.

"These are true halla," Ilgarla told him. "War halla. They are proud and intelligent, tall enough even for you to ride."

"I'd prefer a dragon," Bull said. "But okay."

Fen'Harel helped Evin onto her mount. They set off for the temple, following the temple's muted beacon along a narrow trail. The halla were forest creatures, born beneath the trees, surefooted in the worst terrain. Their group made good time. After an hour they crossed a stream and stopped because the halla wished to drink. Then they continued. The trees began to stretch dangerously high overhead, casting everything into shadow, limbs tall and straight with trunks as big around as houses. The very deepest of the Arbor Wilds—where none other than elvhen dared to intrude. Where the secrets of the past still lingered.

Toward the end of the day Evin began to fade. Fen'Harel guided his halla closer to hers in case she should lose her balance. At the next clearing he called a halt. They had only managed to ride a few hours, but it was early spring. Night already threatened. Ilgarla drew the sigil to raise the tents.

Evin's face was drawn and pale but her eyes burned bright. Fen'Harel reached for her to help her down. Catching his hand tight, she slid from the saddle into his arms. The excess mana bloomed through her aura—an exquisite sweetness. He drained it off but there was more, and she was standing so close, and in this alien world he felt giddiness run through his veins, a physical sensation like liquid silver pooling in his belly.

"Do you feel that?" Evin's slender fingers brushed the back of his scalp. She whispered into his neck: "I want a man, even if it's you."

He laughed softly. "Ah, my cruel Inquisitor, for that I will punish you."

"Two tents," Bull was saying. "Guys and ladies? Or—"

Fen'Harel dragged Evin into the closest.

"Right," the Qunari said. "So, Ilgarla—"

Fen'Harel pulled the canvas door flap closed behind them. Silence settled on them—elvhen craft, elvhen magic—he turned his complete attention to his mate.

Evin pulled him to the floor. She wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned in—he pressed against her hips but waited to see what she wanted. Soft breaths, soft kisses up his throat, but when she reached the lobe of his ear she nipped it. A groan escaped him. Her sharp teeth—her flicking, probing tongue. He was going mad—his fingers trembled too much to undo the fastenings of her tunic.

He forced himself to stop.

She'd said she loved him, but was she certain of her feelings? That strange confusion. How much did she even remember now?

"If Lysander were here—" he began.

"If Lysander were here you'd both be in trouble," she said.

"Your arrow stings." He laughed. "My sweet vhenan, had I understood your ardor I would not have refrained from your body yesterday."

"When Revas interrupted us?" In the dim light her eyes were full of amusement. "What about Andruil?"

"What about her?" he murmured. "I should have dragged you off somewhere alone. And then—"

She smirked up at him. "Don't make me guess."

He started to whisper into her ear—exactly what he wished to do—but after only a few moments she was gone. Her head slumped forward—she had once again lost consciousness. He swore under his breath—perhaps out of rising frustration as well as concern.

He observed her for hours as she slept, then lay down beside her to rest. Watchful dozing, with the Veil light against his senses.

Sometime during the night he woke to feel Evin's naked skin pressed against his body, her unbound breasts, her greedy hands. His lips met hers with hunger. This was the best way to wake....

"Solas," she whispered.

"You can do better than that," he told her.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"My name, ma vhenan."

"Solas?" Puzzled. She was puzzled.

She did not remember his name.

Chapter Text

The Iron Bull reached for the ironwood stick beside him and stirred up the campfire. A few stray sparks fled into the darkened sky. He already missed the Chargers. Hell, he missed the Inquisition. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been surrounded by so many elves—and these elves were as different from the southern elves as viddathari. They were their own thing and they knew it, proud as the statue that tried to hold back the sea.

These elves didn't believe in pickets—or reins or stirrups, for that matter—so their mounts wandered the camp, whuffling and whistling to each other and chewing on twigs. Even the tents had the flavor of something that had been lost to the world, back when magic was more of a convenience, not something you had to scrounge up and save to throw at people trying to kill you.

The Iron Bull shook his head and took another swig of the flask Voth had given him. He was keeping watch, but with so many mages around he felt a little unnecessary. He'd seen the calibre of wards Solas had set around the camp. Not something he wanted to mess with.

Why was it always the quiet ones? Solas—or Fen'Harel, rather. It wasn't like his Solas persona was aggressively plain. No, he was just sufficiently weird to make you nod your head and think you had him figured. Then... pow. Hidden in plain sight.

Fen'Harel hadn't even really betrayed the Inquisition, as far as The Iron Bull could tell. He'd done his job and moved on. The Iron Bull could respect a man like that. For anything important there were always sacrifices. You didn't always know which ones you'd have to make in advance.

These elves, though—

Ilgarla. Bitchy but hot. That thing with the dragon. Parshaara-raas! The Iron Bull whistled to himself.

Voth he knew pretty well from Sutherland's outfit. Never spoke much—which made more sense, now.

Not to mention the guy they'd left back at Skyhold. Another quiet elf. The Iron Bull would give his left testicle if Arlasan had killed fewer than a thousand men. Maybe that wasn't a big deal for an immortal, but it left marks.

Then there were the elves who'd attacked the gatehouse at Skyhold and gotten him stabbed. A shitty way to start the day.

Ended decent, though.

Those three elves had killed their share of Chargers. From what he'd heard one had gotten away. That was something he expected to repay.

The Iron Bull heard a rustling noise behind him and checked to see if it was one of the "war halla" looking for a snack. Instead Voth pushed his way out of their tent. The painfully slender elf joined him by the fire.

"I should check your bandage," Voth said in a bleak voice.

Ilgarla was in that tent, sleeping. That was the idea, anyway.

The Iron Bull lifted a brow. "Something happen in there?"

Voth didn't say anything. Just gazed at the fire with that hundred-mile stare.

The Iron Bull grunted. Voth helped him unbuckle his harness, then replaced the bandage on the wound in his back. Enough elfroot and elven magic in the Fade and it really didn't feel too bad. The Iron Bull was a little stiff but he could fight, as long as he didn't try anything acrobatic.

"So, Voth, did you know about all this?" he asked. "About the Dread Wolf thing?"

"What? No."

"Is something wrong? You can tell me if there is."

Voth brushed at some sweat on his forehead. "It is no matter."

"Something happen with Ilgarla? Want me to talk to her?"

"I'd prefer you didn't. I was, ah, forced to explain to our colleague that I tend to prefer men."

"Ah. So—she—"

"She expressed interest, then unhappiness. If you don't mind I would prefer to keep watch for a while. I wish to concentrate on my duty, not... affection."

The Iron Bull was honestly a little surprised a woman like that would go for someone like Voth. Ilgarla'd given every sign of disliking the man intensely. Unless that was her way of signalling. Hard to read, that one.

He thought it over. Or maybe he wasn't thinking anymore.

"Voth, help me out here. Teach me something dirty in elven."


"I'm serious. Tell me something an ancient elf lady would want to hear. Dirty, though."

"Ilgarla is Varen's daughter. She would consider you a quickling at best. She'd never look at you twice."

"Oh come on, we both know she was admiring me earlier."

"I'm sorry, Bull, I don't think—"

"Why? What's the worst that could happen?"

Voth eyed him dubiously. "Whatever it was would likely involve dragons."

"Fair enough," The Iron Bull admitted. "But Chargers and Sutherlanders should stick together."

Voth hesitated. Then— "Perhaps... I could teach you something. You might say something like this—"

Fen'Harel's blood raced with an exhilarating mixture of panic and lust. Arousal and fear—a buzzing in his ears like he was a fledgling again, helpless with desire, consumed by the woman before him—and Evin Lavellan's tears. She lay beside him in the tent with the muted song of unpaired passerines outside, and he braced her shoulders to keep her at arm's length.

His bewitching, befuddled Inquisitor—a woman who stared down dragons, empresses, and gods—began to cry. "You still don't want me," she said in a small voice. "You never did."

If there was a more unfair thing a naked woman could tell a willing man in bed he couldn't imagine it. What could he do but kiss away her tears, erase them from her cheeks with the softest caresses of his fingers?

When she quieted a little, he pulled his blanket around her bare shoulders. "I want you almost more than anything, my heart. Be honest with me, though. You don't remember my name."

"Solas?" she whispered.

How much would he give to never hear that name again? He sighed. "It is important to me that you know who I am. I am quite jealous, you see. When you lie with me I want my Name on your lips."

"Then... I got lost again," she murmured. "I forgot something important. When the Anchor drags me back I lose track of when or where. I'm sorry."

"Do not apologize for that. What happened is my fault." He clasped her fingers in his and cast about for something to say, something that would distract them both. "I should help you to stay grounded. Perhaps you could... tell me about Revas."

She nestled closer to him. "Revas? What do you want to know?"

"For a start?" He grinned in the darkness. "Everything. Every story you remember."

"Oh!" She breathed a laugh. "That's a dangerous thing to ask a mother."

"Not for a father," he said. "Please. You said—the birth took sixteen hours. In that dirty, forsaken temple—"

"It wasn't dirty!" she protested. "Parts of it weren't. Is it your statue near the entrance? What an odd thing to ask. Of course, the elven midwife said—"

She recounted what she remembered of the birth, things recalled with memories dulled by delirium left dangerously late. How Revas had looked when he was born. His tiny wrinkled frown, his first purple-faced cries. How intensely she had loved him in an instant. All the things he should have been present for, all the things he should have helped her with. Everything he had missed in his stupid, stubborn ignorance, his arrogant disregard. Even if he could not have found a way to be with her, he should at least have tried. He hadn't even tried.

What hollow pangs—to regret this so bitterly now—an ache years in the making. And when she noticed his contrition, it was her turn to brush away his tears.

"Tell me more, ma vhenan," he said.

She told him about returning to Skyhold with Revas, the first frightening, uncertain weeks as a new mother. Revas' first fever—how frantic she had been. The first time he'd called her mamae. His first steps. How clever he was—in her unbiased opinion—how beautiful, how perfect. How all the companions doted on him. The wooden toys Blackwall carved, the dwarven fables Varric told. And later stories—funny or amusing. Revas playing with the war table markers and almost sending a battalion to Ferelden. Revas playing hide-and-seek in the rotunda and falling asleep under the chief scrivener's desk. Revas, running into the Main Hall during a judgment and climbing into her lap, or getting lost at the ambassador's palace in Val Royeaux. She had found him hours later in the stables, playing with a litter of puppies.

And she told him things he knew had never happened. At one point she mentioned an Emperor in Halamshiral—when she was the person who'd had the only possible claimant executed. And another mysterious tale—about Morrigan's gift—but he knew Morrigan had fled Skyhold almost immediately after Corypheus' defeat and never returned.

She told him about Revas learning to ride, something that would not happen for years. She told him about Blackwall teaching him, but Blackwall was dead. In the next breath it seemed Cullen was the instructor.

Her memories were all there. She simply got lost among them, confused by things that hadn't happened or never would.

When she lost track or ran out of things to say he prompted her. He asked questions just to hear her voice, the way she'd once asked things of him.

And he began to seriously consider the problem, the same way he would put his mind to any intellectual exercise.

Nothing magical could be totally opaque to him. And this illness was magic, too.

Chapter Text

Fen'Harel attacked the problem as he would a difficult position in a game of chess. Evin Lavellan's sickness, the conflagration of the Mark that left her lost in mistaken memory—he would force himself to look on it as puzzle to be solved. If emotion blinded him, he must cast it aside. He could not lose her this way. He refused to accept it. After all, the Anchor was not entirely a mystery to him. He understood the elements of its genesis—

First, the orb of destruction. Now lost.

Next, an enormous quantity of souls. Blood, to be precise.

Last, lyrium. Corrupt or pure did not signify.

From these ingredients the magister had enacted his ritual, crafted the Anchor, and torn open the Breach in the sky. Through Faith or chance Evin had come upon the Anchor and absorbed it. It made little sense to discuss one or the other in isolation, especially now. In some respects, she was the Anchor. It rested in the seat of her mind, her brain, her shining core.

He considered the flood of magic that overwhelmed her body. Surely that was key to the problem. A mortal mage like Evin, with no expertise in such matters, would not understand how to disperse its power. Evin had no access to his immortal Focus. With it Fen'Harel could drain the surge of mana periodically, tip the excess into his orb until it grew fat and turgid with nascent probability. There must be a means for her to learn this on her own, some analogous skill. He refused to believe it was impossible.

Fen'Harel leaned on his side, propped on his elbow, considering the Inquisitor. She had stopped speaking, ceased sharing remembered tales about their son. She lay beside him on her back, hands folded over the blanket on her chest, her eyes unfocused. The canvas walls protected them from the cold and dimmed the sounds of the Arbor Wilds at night.

He sensed the Anchor's power as it welled and depleted within her like relentless waves crashing on a shore. Welled... and depleted? That was unusual. It drew his attention. It should not happen on its own. Could she be trying in some fashion to protect herself? It might not even be the result of conscious design, but a reflexive response to harm.

If he were the Inquisitor, how would he attempt it?

Perhaps—she'd been doing it all along—

He gripped her hand—unfurled his leashed senses—and caught the faint but glittering signifier of time magic.

Every breath, every heartbeat. She drew herself into the Fade between one sentence and the next, swift enough to change one detail in a story—

She was teaching herself to control it. But somehow it had gone wrong.

The next time it came Fen'Harel duplicated the spell and cast it over himself.

He followed her into the Fade.

Voth sat alone before the campfire, silently drinking tea. His mistress favored the beverage so he was cultivating a taste for it. Otherwise he hated it, but that did not matter. Asha'vianar preferred her tea middling hot, prepared the Kirkwall way, with twice-crushed leaves left to steep loosely in the water. No sugar, no milk. He knew this, having overheard it in the Herald's Rest from a group of kitchen staff. That chance remark and others stirred in his memory. He would learn to brew the Inquisitor's favorite drink and learn how it tasted thus prepared, so that he could serve her in a small way. Larger things would follow.

Voth had vast experience in service. He also had the patience to be thorough. A pity there was not another sentinel to share his duty. Ruan'an should be accompanied by two.

Mortal though Evin Lavellan was, Voth possessed no doubts. He was in the correct place. He had utter certainty of it. Let others consider her a quickling—their errors did not concern him. What he found odious was open disrespect.

Voth wondered if the servants who'd shared the story of Evin's tea now slumbered in Skyhold as Sutherland did. Voth trusted his friend would recover from his wounds—thanks to his new mistress—and wondered when he might get word to Sutherland's wife Shayd. It would be improper to pester Fen'Harel about such matters. Perhaps he would ask Ilgarla. Perhaps the ill-tempered brat would deign to answer.

He hoped she enjoyed the Qunari he had sent.

Voth glanced at the tent he shared with them. Bull had disappeared into it a little while earlier. So far there had been only silence. Perhaps they were asleep. Perhaps all was well? ... He did not think that likely.

The elvhen wrapped his cloak closer around his body like a blanket against the cold. He kept one part of his mind on the wards, one ear peaked for noise. He lifted the wrought metal mug to his lips and forced himself to sip.

Night had crept in cold enough to leave him grateful for the fire and the mug's warmth in his hand. The camp was quiet except for the forlorn calls of night birds and the occasional whicker of the halla.

Until the peace was suddenly broken.

The door to the sentinels' tent flew open like a wing of canvas ready to take flight. Then, as though flung by some astonishing, unseen force of fury Iron Bull hurtled through it.

The Qunari shot across the clearing like a missile ejected from a crossbow. Limbs flailing, he crashed into a stand of bushes across from the campfire.

The tent flap fell closed... but something about its aspect made one imagine a seething dragon's den. Possibly Voth was imagining that, but he certainly wasn't going to disturb it.

The sentinel hurried to Bull's side. He helped the larger man sit up and pulled a few stray fronds from his horns.

Bull shook his head as though to clear it. A thoughtful grin was on his face. And several scratches from the thistle.

A worse reaction than Voth expected. Much worse—

"Bull? What did you do?" he asked. "Why didn't you say what I told you to say?"

Iron Bull gave him a long, quizzical look. The Qunari repeated the elvhen phrase he'd learned—at least, he repeated what he'd likely said to Ilgarla.

Voth's mouth fell open in horror, as shocked as a man witnessing another throw away his chance at life. "That wasn't what I said," he exclaimed, aghast. "Tell me you didn't say that!"

"Why? Did I pronounce it wrong?"

Elvhen was a language of intents and intonation—inference and expectation. The bare syllables were almost all there—the Qunari was a quick study for languages—but what he no doubt thought a tiny difference combined with the way he'd said it—. Voth sat back on his heels. He had thought to provoke Fen'Harel's sentinel by sending the Qunari to her with an open proposition—not outrage her dignity... to such an extent.

Though it was a little funny.

Voth stared Bull in the eye. "Let me be clear. If anyone ever asks, you did not learn those words from me. In fact, you have no idea what they mean."

"I don't know what they mean," Bull said. "But it certainly got a reaction. Not bad."

"Not bad? Bull, Ilgarla must be livid!"

Bull didn't appear unduly perturbed. "Yeah. But now I have her attention."

The Wolf tracked his mate across the dreaming Fade.

Here old paths intersected old spirits, and ancient entities held the shape and speech of elvhen still. They recalled the cities before they fell, the people before their pride was lost, the currents of magic when it still ran free. They knew the Forgotten Ones before they were forgotten. They remembered the Dread Wolf before he was Fen'Harel. They bowed low before him and withdrew in advance of his passage. In other places he would conceal himself and his nature, but not here, less than a day from Hellathen Viran. This was his domain. Let others seek him out, let them try him in his place of power.

He followed Evin's enticing scent to a clearing as before, a flat blank field at war with the ever-changing Fade. Long white walls enclosed a space, a sanctuary. Only the living mind of a Dreamer could have fabricated such a thing.

He knew this was her work. He'd seen this place before at Tarasyl'an Te'las, yet there were obvious and troubling differences. The pale barriers sagged, softened into smoke around the edges. The entire structure was falling back into the Fade.

When he reached the gate he instanced his elvhen form. He tore up the stairs, sweeping past the simple puzzles that kept mindless wisps at bay. Except that the puzzles had fallen into disarray, and minor spirits bobbed among them like dandelion fluff, swirling back into the shadows when he strode through.

"You're here!" a voice cried.

"Cole?" Fen'Harel asked, startled.

The pale-skinned, human-shaped spirit met him at the top of the stairs. Cole was hatless, colorless hair plastered on his sweaty forehead. "I can't get her out. I can't touch the water. You have to get her out!"

"Calm down, Cole. What's wrong? Can you explain?"

"The black water flooded in. It keeps flooding. It won't stop. I tried to help. Please help!"

Fen'Harel felt the skin prickle on the back of his neck—

At the top of the stairs were a pair of wrought gates, the decorative inlay corroded and peeling away. He swept them open with his will and strode forward into the viewing chamber.

His bare toes met wet, smooth stones.

Evin's sanctuary was submerged.

The entire space was canted to one side, tipped into the black Fade sea. Except he now understood it was not the sea and it never had been. The Vianaris was built over the waters of the Abyss.

And it had flooded.

"Where is she, Cole?" Fen'Harel asked.

The spirit lifted a trembling hand and pointed at the water.

A ghostly green glow, the merest gleam of light, it dappled at the waves like a beating heart hidden far below.

Evin was blind in the Fade. She had no foresight here. As powerful as she was, this was something she could not fight, not in her weakened state. Yet the Fade was the only way she knew to control the Mark. This was his mistake. It never should have happened.

"I can't go there," Cole said, his voice desperate with misery. "The black beckons, brackets, clutches, but won't cut loose. I tried to find you but I couldn't cross your wards. You have to help her. Can you help her?"

He could try.

Fen'Harel shed his cloak and stripped the wrapping from his feet while he prepared the magic he would need, the Wolf's protective skin. Then he plunged into the water.

Cold as retribution, turgid, motionless except for his own movement. He followed the platform down into the water. A steep angle—his knees splashed through it until he met a sharp and sudden drop.

He dove into the black, toward the glint of green.

He cut through the water with clean, swift strokes. No need for air; this was the Fade. Bits of darker thought and emotion tried to wrangle him, the seeds of emptiness, but his armor drove them off. He dove deeper into the boundless void, seeking the drowned presence he knew was hers.

She hung there—suspended—pale garments drifting and weightless, her eyes open but unseeing, her face lit from below by the glow of the Anchor at her heart.

He reached out and caught the trailing hem of her sleeve.

He folded her in his arms, tried to bear her with him, but something fought him.

Something had hold of her—

He slashed at it with his magic, sensed resistance as the blow struck true. Whatever it was let go, but he tasted spite.

Fen'Harel enfolded Evin in his magic, a protective barrier, and felt her start to struggle. He ascended through the water until they broke the surface, and then he lifted her out.

Cole met them on the slanted shore.

"Was she wounded? Will she wake?" Compassion asked.

Fen'Harel checked over his vhenan—the robes she chose to wear in the Fade all soaked through, her hair in black and sodden locks, her face like bleached paper. And held his breath.

Evin opened her eyes. "You finally found me," she said.

He laughed. "I am sorry I made you wait."

"Really?" she asked, pretending to be puzzled. "Five years is long enough?"

He kissed her lips. "And not another day."

Chapter Text

Over the next several hours Fen'Harel roamed the Fade of the Wilds with his Inquisitor. He introduced her to the friend-spirits who knew him, took her to glimpse his favorite memories, the echoes of history that lingered through millennia. At first Evin was quiet, introspective after her ordeal, but as time went on she relaxed and began to smile. Her presence filled him with warmth, a resonant heat that attracted other curious denizens of the Fade. She laughed, and linked her arm with his, casually reshaping the terrain with a wish to give them distance from the others.

She leaned in to him, near enough to kiss, but what was nearness in the Fade was more like closeness of thought. What he saw of her was the merging of ideas, of identity concepts and images that altered and transformed under a Dreamer's careless hand. For them, the Fade was a playful place. But he knew she wanted to ask him something, so he waited.

After a while she surrounded him and thought a question in the timbre of her voice: "Will you show me the Wolf?"

That was not what he expected. Fen'Harel reached out to touch her face, the indentation above her upper lip. "Do you want to see it?"

"Isn't that your natural form?" she asked.

"Both are real. Both are true in their respective worlds." His mouth quirked a pained smile. "Though it took some time to understand that. Are you certain?"


He had no wish to witness fear in her eyes when she looked at him. What if she recoiled? He recalled the minor wolf he'd sent her on the walls of Tarasyl'an Te'las, when the demon had attacked. He drew courage from the thought.

A glimpse, then.

The Wolf wanted to see her too....

"Stand back a pace," he told her. "And do not be afraid... I will not bite."

He cast his stave aside, and with it this strange hesitation. In the waking world he sensed the Fen'edal around his neck, lending its steady reassurance to his workings.

The Dread Wolf as he was meant to be—

He cast off his elvhen form.

Fen'Harel stretched up from the ground, feeling the muscles of his back ripple and flex, the midnight scales of his hide bunch and straighten. Claws like curved onyx blades gripped the stuff of Fade. The sound of his own breath hissed in his ears.

He paused for a moment to enjoy it, the luxury of liberation and release, as though he had been pent up for ages and not merely an hour or two.

Then he gazed back at Evin with eyes that perceived every twitch and tremor—six eyes, sometimes more—and went completely still.

She looked—astonished. Awed.

He did not mind that at all. Pleased—with his mate. With her courage. She pleased him.

She extended her hand to him. He paced closer to her tiny form, lowered his muzzle to sense her better. Her fingers caressed the softer bristles above his nose, pushing aside the scales as though to feel them.

She was such a small thing, frail and mortal. A brilliant spark resisting its own doom. He had seen generations of her kind live, flourish, and die. They left so little trace of themselves—but not Evin. The Inquisitor's will reshaped the world.

Evin's hand dropped to her side. She gazed up at him, wondering. He waited for her next question, whatever it was.

"Is this what Revas is?" she asked.

The thought amused the Wolf. "No, vhenan, Revas is a boy. Nothing more."

Which was not quite true, but true enough for what she worried, the question she had asked.

"He's just our son? An elf, like me? Not... not a god?"

Perhaps this was important for her to know. "A god's soul does not chance into existence," he told her. "Do you think such power can reproduce itself on its own? If so then all the gods would devour their offspring by the dozens. I am grateful it is not so for the atrocities it would spawn."

"I see," she said.

"Revas will be a mage. A skilled one, I hope. He will live and die his allotted span. But there is something you should know."

She took a deep breath, gazed up at him, a little uncertain which of his eyes to meet. "Tell me."

He shook himself from the Wolf's form so he could express himself better. He strode forward and clasped her arms, leaning forward to murmur softly in her ear. "When we reach the temple you must not tell anyone Revas is mine."

She frowned. "You don't trust the people there."

"I do trust them. Today. But what of tomorrow? Loyalties can change. I am sorry, but—it will be safer for Revas if he is your child only."

"If you think it best," she said. "But I don't see what difference it makes. He's—he's still in Skyhold, isn't he? We left all those people there."

"We will do everything we can. When it is safe," he said. And now it was his turn for a question— "Did Revas—ever ask about his father?"

"He has," Evin said slowly.

"What did you tell him?" he asked.

"I told him I loved his father very much. I told him he had to leave because he needed to do something very important." She smiled a little. "Of course, I was making that last part up. What I should have said is that his father is fond of a few too many secrets and that I'll punish him severely whenever I get my hands on him."

He laughed under his breath. "I look forward to enduring it."

"That's because you don't know what I have in mind."

When morning arrived Fen'Harel received a message from Arlasan that all was well in Tarasyl'an Te'las. The sentinel continued his vigil, cared for Skyhold's wounded, did what he could to maintain the keep in its quiescent state. Fen'Harel shook his head at the message—written in common, so he could pass it to the Inquisitor—and wondered what he would do if matters changed.

Evin Lavellan pushed her way through the door of the tent they shared. She looked out at the morning light on the trees and grinned, sharing the full force of her smile. When was the last time she had looked on him with such an expression? He honestly did not remember. He felt such happiness—bittersweet, because this could not possibly last. She did not yet know—and he owed her the truth, as much as he could spare. When they reached Hellathen Viran. When she was safely there and no sooner.

His enemies did not realize her importance. But with the wardstone of Tarasyl'an Te'las exposed—they soon would. They would realize what he had planned. As long as the Anchor was safely in his hands....

"I am glad to see you awake and well," Fen'Harel said.

"I feel like I've had a fever," she said, "like this is the first night I've really managed to sleep in a long time. It seems I don't remember much. Where... where are we? I remember Skyhold—"

"This is the Wilds. We are very near to Hellathen Viran, where my people have gathered. We can rest there safely." And he could send out feelers for Anaris' minions... and decide what he must do next, how his plans must alter with his enemy's resurgence.

Evin shook her head. "The Arbor Wilds? That's all wrong. I can't be here right now."

He considered her—wondering what her foresight revealed, how her power was affected by the change in the Anchor. "We can discuss that when we reach the temple," he said.

Fortunately, Voth interrupted further conversation. The elvhen appeared at Evin's shoulder as though out of nowhere. The pale, thin man handed her a small metal mug.

"Ooh, tea!" Evin said. "Ma serannas."

The sentinel inclined his head graciously. "I arranged a change of clothes for you and a basin for washing. Shall I bring them?"

A pleased smile spread across Evin's face. "If you like," she said. "I'm happy to see you're already healed."

Voth lifted a hand to his face, the absent vallaslin. "Yes."

Ilgarla paced over to them. She seemed agitated—more so than normal. "There is plenty of light for the halla. We should go now."

"I'm not going anywhere until I get a change of clothes," Evin said, sipping her tea.

Ilgarla glared—but not directly at her.

Fen'Harel hid a smile. "You never bring me hot beverages, Ilgarla. Why is that?"

"Some of us have worthier ways to spend our time," the sentinel replied.

Voth reappeared at Evin's side. He offered her a small cloth parcel. "Breakfast for you, Inquisitor. I expect we'll eat on the trail. Your other things are in your tent."

"Aren't you a treasure," Evin cooed.

Ilgarla strode away, muttering. She walked up to the door of the other tent and kicked at it savagely. "Get up, Qunari!"

It took only a few moments for Iron Bull to appear from inside, carefully ducking his horns under the canvas. He did not seem unduly bothered by Ilgarla's ill behavior.

"Boss!" the Qunari exclaimed. "Glad to see you on your feet."

"Bull? You're here too?" Evin said. "But where's Cole? You forgot to adjust the wards, ma lath."

Ah. That was true—Fen'Harel recalled how helpful Cole had been with a guilty start. He had been preoccupied. The wards had completely slipped his mind. "I will make it up to him later," he said.

Bull surveyed Evin, from her chipper expression to the messy knot of hair. "You look a lot better. Wolf cock really is something," he said.

"Oh, really?" Fen'Harel bit.

Evin just laughed—and gave him a sidelong glance. "I'll go get dressed." And she handed him the empty mug—and whispered, "I look forward to trying that remedy tonight, Dread Wolf."

She didn't wait for an answer. He remembered waking in her arms—how difficult it had been to persuade himself to leave. He lifted his fingers to his cheek and felt the heat of a spreading flush.

Evin found that she still stared down at her hand. The Mark wasn't there, but the habit remained. She kept her balance on the halla's back and splayed the new possibilities in her left palm, grasping them, weighing them. It was as though her eyes were new and she was still learning how to see.

Their small group rode for a few hours, allowing the halla to choose a path between the towering, epic trees. After a while Evin noticed a future in which she caught a glimpse of someone behind them. They were being followed. She imagined herself telling Fen'Harel, but he never appeared concerned. Something he expected, then.

After an hour they crossed an arch woven of living trees, their mossy limbs bent into a bridge stretched over a rushing stream. On the other side a delegation waited.

Hoods pulled over their faces, embroidered with stitched gold thread, with the bare points of their ears visible—tall, lithe forms, most in gilded armor. These were not the poor woodland elves of modern times. They were elvhen, and they spoke a language that rippled and stirred in her memory like something she'd learned once and forgotten.

A pale hand extended toward the cheekbone of the halla she rode. The halla ducked its head for a caress—clearly it recognized the owner.

Fen'Harel spoke to them in metered cadence, gesturing at her and the others at one point. The figures bowed to him, then retreated into the woods. They rejoined them on their own mounts, fanning out as a vanguard.

"Who are these people?" she asked.

"They are my people," Fen'Harel said.

She thought of other things she might ask, but everything was so unclear that she felt uncertain. She wasn't sure what answers she wanted first. Why did his answers change? In anyone else that might mean a sudden lie. But she didn't think he'd ever resorted to unplanned untruth with her before.

"What haven't you told me?" she asked.

Fen'Harel met her eyes, his cool gray irises catching the sunlight, turning slightly green. "All will be made clear," he said.

If that was true, the branch should be before her. Why didn't she see it? Unless he meant the Fade.

She suddenly felt uneasy. "Fen'Harel—"

"All is well, my heart," he said. "Welcome to Hellathen Viran."

Chapter Text

Evin Lavellan had the sensation that she was part of someone else's dream. But it was an old dream, a dream before she'd awakened as a mage and somniari, from the days when the sleeping world was something she had little power to affect. The halla on which she rode, the vanguard of elvhen that surrounded them, even her nearest companions, they were all part of the same escort, the same inescapable destination.

Iron Bull sat a mount to her right, Voth to her left. Fen'Harel had joined a small group of elvhen ahead of them. Ilgarla ranged off to the side with others of the same party. Her armor matched theirs, not identical but of a kind. But Fen'Harel—in his plain, rough-stitched clothes and woven hood—was cut of different cloth, something older, purer. There was nothing shabby about him. He wore simplicity like a mantle.

She sensed old magic in this place. Either the Veil was thin—she recalled that Solas had always preferred it that way—or the enchantments had been continuously renewed, unbroken over the unsleeping ages.

Eventually the halla came to a stop. Their escort dismounted, some whistled to gather up the mounts. Fen'Harel came and got her. She gazed down into his pale eyes and let him lift her down. She felt thoughtful and slow, or perhaps it was the unhurried movements of the elvhen, their murmured, half-heard speech. The weight of the magic and the unusual Veil pressed on her like she was several dozen feet underwater.

"How do you feel?" Fen'Harel asked.

When she replied she wasn't certain if her words were common or elvhen.

A language she didn't speak, not like he did, not the way the rest of them did. She felt lost, like he would have to guide her here. Like she couldn't find her own way. But the Mark, her constant star, would always show her the way home.

Bull offered his large hand to help her over the uneven path. The paving stones were cracked and crumbling. There were signs the vegetation had been cleared from them recently, in the sense that a year is more recent than an age. Voth constantly hovered at her side. Did her silence worry them? She felt too small for words. All the sounds that came to her were distant, swallowed up by the overhanging trees.

They went with their escort onto the paved path, and eventually through the forest appeared a wall of yellow stone, not especially high but notable for its state of preservation. She recognized the masonry, the arches hidden in the span. Elven-craft far older than the Dales. In some sense, she was returning home, except these weren't her people.

They passed through a gate in the wall and then reached another bridge, this one made of stone over a square lagoon. And as they crossed she saw the lake turned sharp corners on each side, that it shaped a square sort of isle, and she heard the crash of a falls not far away. But the place must be several miles wide, with the far edges hidden by the woods.

They crossed over the bridge and came to another gate set in a stand of trees. Fen'Harel waited for her there, and when she reached him he said, "Enter freely, vhenan."

And he lifted her hand to walk her through the gate.

More trees, and now she saw the watching faces between the saplings, more elvhen who came out to see them. She had the feeling they were looking specifically at her. She was the Inquisitor of Skyhold and accustomed to state visits, if that was what this was. But for all the people they passed, she never saw any children.

The path grew straighter, smoother, perfecting itself with every footstep. Now they walked among gardens, sculptures, rivulets of streams, and sometimes she caught a glimpse of an opening like a ravine, additional levels beneath them, in unending galleries. This place was far more elaborate than the Temple of Mythal, or at least the section she had seen.

Finally they seemed to reach the end of their journey. The gardens that lined the path were packed with elvhen, hundreds of ancients. And before them, a great stair that led into the temple.

Fen'Harel beckoned her to join his side. She did, again feeling rather quiet and watchful.

"Do I have to run through a bunch of puzzles now, like I did for Mythal?" she asked.

His mouth quirked. "No," he said. "Just this."

He pressed his lips to her cool forehead. Turning to the Qunari and her sentinel, he kissed the tips of two fingers and anointed each of her companions.

"You are welcome here," he said. "Andaran atish'an."

Bull looked thoughtful. Voth seemed pleased.

Fen'Harel motioned with one hand and began to climb the stairs. A small delegation waited at the top. They weren't dressed any differently than the other elvhen they'd met, but they had an air of gravity about them. And... she recognized at least one of them.

The haughty, imperious elvhen from the temple. Mythal's sentinel, though he no longer wore her vallaslin. Faintly golden skin, yellow eyes, hairless except for the pale flowing locks at the crown of his head. The one she'd known as Abelas.

"You are Varen now," she said.

And he inclined his head. A little friendlier than last time, she noted.

So Fen'Harel had indeed seen to his new name. The Oath, she thought, and wondered what they'd sworn.

"This is Surahn," Fen'Harel said, introducing the woman who stood beside Varen. "She will show you where you may rest."

"Forgive me for saying this, but you look quite exhausted," the woman said in perfect, sympathetic common. "My lord, is it impossible to set the banquet for tomorrow?"

"The people will wish to see her," Fen'Harel said.

"Everyone is curious about you," Surahn told Evin. "But I would like you to lie down. Your aura is confused."

"It feels confused," Evin said honestly. "The magic here feels strange, like I've drunk too much wine."

"Then it can wait until tomorrow," Fen'Harel said with the air of someone whose word naturally decided things. "Go and rest, little star."

"What about Voth and Bull?" she asked.

"We will see to their comfort," Surahn said.

Evin let them lead her away, with Surahn and three other women. They walked through a tall but narrow corridor and several shallow steps, into a wide atrium with growing plants and, at the far end, a living waterfall, and then down into one of the galleries.

They came to a door which Surahn opened, and she said, "These will be your apartments while you stay."

Evin walked inside, still with that feeling of remoteness, slightly dazed, and found a pale, cool room in hues of golds and pinks, a low, padded bed, and that soft hypnotic music.

"You are rather lovely, aren't you?" Surahn said. "I see now who he was dreaming of."

He had only one meaning in this place, Evin thought. "You saw his dreams?"

"Where the Veil is thin the somniari still reign a little. After we found this place, when he slept, the statues began to look like you. Even the faces painted on the walls."

Evin began to flush.

"But you are somniari, of course." The woman smiled. "Perhaps you will paint them too."

Evin didn't know how to paint. But Fen'Harel did.

The three women undressed her while Surahn supervised her bath, and they woke her when she fell asleep in the perfumed water. They laid her in the bed, and pulled a smooth linen coverlet over her shoulders, and she fell immediately asleep, so scattered she didn't even dream.

She drifted for a while, and when she began to wake she thought she heard a baby crying somewhere, and opening her eyes she thought of Revas. She wanted him with her—he ought to be here. But recalling Fen'Harel's words she wondered if there were reasons he might prefer their child to remain locked away.

She needed to return to Skyhold.

She needed to return Skyhold.

It didn't seem likely she could manage that on her own. But she was the Inquisitor, she would find a way. She wondered what Fen'Harel had in mind to restore it—assuming he had thought about it at all.

She suddenly wondered if he had.

Perhaps he had higher priorities than the Inquisition's stronghold. Perhaps they were related to his reasons for returning to her at all. But when she began to consider it, her reverie was interrupted by one of the ladies from before.

"Are you awake?" the woman asked, in worse common than Surahn's. "Would you like to eat?"

"Yes," Evin said.

"We will help you dress," she said.

The other two women returned—perhaps they were assigned to her—and brought her a selection of clothes. There were gowns in varying shades to flatter her coloring, some with astonishing embroidery, others picked out with subtle beadwork. Evin would have been happy to select one, but the women kept shaking their heads at each other and returning with more. Finally, finally, the taller, darker-haired lady brought her a simple woolen shift that fell in straight, severe lines. There was no real decoration, only a kind of golden piping at the seams, the arms and shoulders joined with golden pins. It reminded her of the dress she'd worn at Halamshiral, the stark white gown she'd chosen to remind everyone she was the Inquisition, the Herald, a being entirely above their Game.

They found golden sandals to fit her feet, a braided cord to knot at her waist, a bangle for her arm. And if this wasn't for a banquet Evin wondered very much what the standards at Hellathen Viran exactly were.

They offered to paint her face like theirs. That wasn't her custom, though she let them dust a little of that gold stuff on her cheeks and eyelids. She thought it was fun. They combed out her curls until they shone, and then they finally seemed satisfied—if a little unhappy she had chosen so plain a gown.

When they handed her a mirror she saw her eyes were bright and calm, though her cheeks were blushing.

She thought about asking them questions, but they weren't very good with common, and the answers would have confused her. She decided it could wait.

They led her down a corridor with muted light, early evening, into a wide room with food on tables along the side. They showed her to serve herself and where to sit, at a long table where others were already eating.

She added fruit and bread to her plate and sat at an empty chair, and the man to her right poured her wine.

"Ma serannas," she said.

He glanced at her—and glanced again, seeming to find something to admire in her appearance, or possibly he'd heard of her. He took a piece of bread from his plate and placed it on hers.

She looked at it for a little while, wondering what this meant, whether she was about to commit some hilarious faux pas, and couldn't quite tell from the branches. She thought the better course was to reciprocate. She took a piece of bread from her plate and put it onto his.

The man met her eyes—thoughtful, speculative—and then a dinner companion sitting across from him said something to him sharply.

And her brief dinner partner hurriedly stood and left.

Odd. Elvhen were odd.

Evin continued to eat her little meal, and when she was finished she looked around to decide what she should do. Find Bull and Voth? Return to her room? She thought she would be able to find her way if she explored enough, by one method or the other.

But one of her ladies beckoned her as soon as she was done, and Evin went over to her.

"Perhaps you would like to hear some music," the woman said.

Evin nodded.

They took her to a terrace where she listened to musicians, and it was an intricate sort of music that seemed to dance in her ears. She fell asleep during one of the songs. And it seemed she saw the melody in her dreams, each rippling note produced from the flowering vines, a softly whispering refrain.

She awoke with a hand on her shoulder. The place was dark, the lamps turned low. The musicians had finished hours before. Surahn had woken her.

"Your song was much admired," Surahn said. "No one wanted to wake you."

"My song?" she asked.

"While you slept. You made the flowers sing."

"Did I? I had no idea."

"They thought it quite alluring. The unstudied beauty. Perhaps you can do it for us another time."

"Well, I can try," she said.

"He would like to see you now," Surahn said.

He, Evin thought. Was it the same in Skyhold? Was she the 'she' there? She thought she must be.

"I would like to see him too."

Chapter Text

Evin Lavellan followed Surahn's graceful stride out of the broad, semi-circular gallery below Fen'Harel's temple, where she'd heard the elvhen musicians play. They entered a tall and narrow corridor, its walls lined with pale orange stone studded here and there with the dim yellow glow of oil lamps. The air held the scent of spring's first flowers, wisteria and lathyrus, and darker hints of incense and olibanum. She felt like she had drifted into another dream, and she tried to hold herself apart from it, to observe. But the weight of years swept her along in its tide.

Were they returning to the central part of the temple? She thought they were. The corridors grew wider and the torches burned brighter gold, ablaze without true flame. Impressions of enduring magic, of long-standing enchantments, hovered on the edge of awareness, a song that receded but never quite fell into actual silence. She followed Surahn up a wide stair, and glancing behind her saw the open air, the night sky with its solemn scattering of stars.

They continued through a corridor, then another set of stairs. The artistry of the walls grew ever more complex. Unpainted carvings of elves in profile, sharp ears, smooth heads, their clothing styled like some of the elvhen she'd seen earlier in the day, with scrolls of lettering she couldn't read. And owls, so many owls, an archaic motif repeated with growing vehemence. The staring orbs of their eyes, their carved wings spread in a mirrored array of feathers. The halls grew narrower, the stones of the floor less worn, as though fewer feet ever tread this way. Soon the only elvhen they passed were dressed in brazen armor, silent watchers stationed at their posts. Then, at last, a small flight of steps before a graven door, and two sentinels beside it.

Surahn nodded at the door. "He's expecting you."

He expected her. Fen'Harel. If this was someone else's dream, maybe it was his. A spark of anticipation caught her breath.

She started to go up the stairs, but a touch on her arm stopped her.

"Your shoes," Surahn said in her rich but gentle voice.

Evin slipped off the sandals one at a time. She climbed the smooth, cool steps in her bare feet. And she hid a smile, because if there were anything more unlikely in Skyhold than this, she couldn't imagine it. As she passed between the bronze doors she thought of forcing Ferelden nobles and mincing Orlesian lords to stand before her without their boots and fancy shoes and couldn't help but laugh.

She walked forward through the archway into a wide pavilion paved with the same pale orange stones, a pattern shaped like crescent moons or overlapping scales, half-circles receding into a bare expanse. It must be hundreds of feet across, open to the starry sky, with a wide rectangular pool in the middle, black water flat as glass. The entire space was surrounded on four sides by rows of pillars. For some reason she thought of the Vianaris, her viewing chamber in the Fade, with its window onto the blackness of time.

The night air was cool against her skin. She sensed the Veil—a whisper of unheard wishes, a presence with its own living force. Robed watchers stood at some of the pillars, silent, hooded. They didn't seem to be elvhen, but what else that left eluded her.

"I like to hear you laugh."

She turned toward the voice. Fen'Harel came to her, still dressed in his wanderer's garb, his head bare, his lips with a smile. His eyes were a little sad.

"I think I slept all day," she confessed.

"It was a burdensome journey. Have you eaten?"

"A while ago. I'm a little hungry."

"Join me."

He took her hand quite naturally, slipping it under his arm. They walked parallel to the pool, and his strides adjusted easily to hers.

"How lovely you look in my sanctum, vhenan."

She gave him a pleased smile. "I'm happy you think so. Surahn's ladies feared the dress was rather plain."

"Never," he averred. "But then you know my tastes. I never hoped to show you this place," he added slowly.

She stopped, because he was so much quieter and sadder than she'd hoped, and thinking about it made her feel weary.

"You asked for my candor once," she said. "Do I have yours?"

And he didn't immediately answer.

She began to feel a little cold, which might be exactly what he wanted—to put her on guard. Did she want to know what happened next? Did she owe him a truthful reaction to whatever he intended to say? Would the weakness of the Veil even permit a clear reading here, where the statues and walls themselves obeyed his will?

Fen'Harel took both her hands, her chilled fingers. "You offer your honesty, but I know you would conceal something if it were necessary. If there were something more at stake."

"I suppose I would. If your knowing somehow harmed matters."

What haven't you told me?

And he heard the question she didn't ask.

"The reason you are here. The reason your presence grants everyone such happiness. The reason you cannot leave—why they will never let you go," he said.

The answer sprang to her lips without her thinking about it. "The Anchor."

The Mark that was part of her, embedded in her soul, that not even Corypheus had been able to remove. She forced herself to consider his words, to set aside the piece of herself that flinched at his expression, the eyes of a man who thought his heart was about to break.

After all he'd done for her, did she think he would betray her? She knew it wouldn't be that simple. If she was the girl in the fable who played with the Wolf, would she cry out in anger when it bit her? That was simply what Wolves did.

"I've seen no necessity that would require me to stay here," she said slowly. "What I see is the Arlathvhen, the state of the elves, everything I put into motion... everything that's still at risk. The longer I stay, the worse—"

"And yet there are things you could not see," he said, "beyond the Anchor."

"The Fade, the silver flame," she said, and slowly added: "Events beyond my lifetime."


Where the branches ended, so did her vision. Only shadows, only apprehensions of history after that. Her imperfect sight. Too far beyond the scope she normally scanned, the chance that seemed too small to matter, that only an immortal could seize.

"Why," she said.

He smiled down at her hands, released her. "My fault, vhenan. As it always is."

"Why yours?"

"The artifacts that reinforce the Veil," he said. "You were so eager to be thorough, with my encouragement."

"Reactivating them did something unexpected. What went wrong?"

"Their resonance is bound up with the Anchor. It took me too long to understand it. I apologize."

The reason you cannot leave.

Her face grimaced with sudden pain. "Enter freely, you said. Your people—"

"I agree with their consensus," he said. He would not back down.

"You don't command the elvhen," she said.

"Not as you would understand it. They honor me, but I am not their master. The people have their own minds and opinions. I would not force them."

"And Revas?" she asked in a small voice.

"I will bring him to you, if you agree to stay. We will even restore Skyhold, if you wish it."

"If?" The hurt began to pierce through the fog. She shook her head again to reject it. "Do you really think you can keep me here?"

"I would not force you, but I believe they would. You recall the sentinels at Skyhold. Can you fight so many?"

No. She couldn't. She could destroy the entire temple, but what would be the point of that? She didn't want to harm his people, however desperate and misguided. There must be another way. There had to be. She would search for it. For a hundred years, she would look.

"If I found a different path, would you listen? Would you let me show you?" she asked.

"Of course I would," he said, his voice emphatic. "But they might not. Their choice is precious to me—freedom is too easy to destroy with a god's unruly whims. Evin, please listen. Surely it is better for you to remain here, safe from harm, safe with me. Better than to let Anaris spill your blood to win his liberty. There's so much you still don't know." He sighed. "You're very quiet. I thought you would be angrier."

"I might be," she said, "if I didn't see myself leaving this place a few weeks from now."

"I do not think that's possible," he said.

For a moment she wondered if he saw more clearly than she did. But only for a moment.

"Is that a challenge, Fen'Harel?" she asked.

And in the depths of his eyes, she caught a spark—the Wolf's delighted grin.

Chapter Text

"You don't think I can do it," Evin Lavellan said. "You don't think I can win my freedom."

Fen'Harel gazed back at her. Disbelief and admiration warred in his eyes. "If anyone could dissuade an army of ancient elvhen from their course, it would be you, Inquisitor."

"Then you won't interfere, Fen'Harel? Do I have your word?"

He stood beside her in the vastness of his inner sanctum, the holiest ground in the temple of Hellathen Viran. The night air was still and cold, the sky vast and deep, and he'd told her she could never leave.

She would see about that.

His head ducked for a moment, evading, considering. "I remain open to persuasion. But I cannot promise. If I see you following an unwise course—."

"I don't want to do anything unwise," she told him.

"Then—I will refrain from openly opposing you. I will keep an open mind."

Good enough, she decided. If she found the path, one that would preserve his people as well as save hers, he would let her follow it. He wouldn't be her enemy. She relaxed a little, released the breath she'd been holding.

She gazed up at the stars, the endless black that was reflected in the water of the pool, the heart of the sanctum in his stolen temple.

"If I win I want a present," she said suddenly.

"You do?" he said, surprised into a laugh.

"I'm serious."

"I do not doubt you," he said, and leaned closer to her. His finger gently traced her jaw, her lips. "What shall I give you, ma vhenan?"

Evin lifted her head away from his touch. And threw her hand at the field of stars. "That."

"What? The sky?" He began to laugh again. "The stars? All of them?"

"Just one," she said.

His expression grew more serious, and he followed her imperious gesture, lifting his hand alongside hers. "That one?" he asked.

"Not the little one. The big one. The bright one. That's the one I want."

"I shall bear that in mind," he said, and gave her his secret smile.

"As long as we're agreed."

They began to walk again, following the edge of the pool, and he showed her through the garden on one end of the open sanctum, where the flowers were still sleeping and the vines grew in braided coils. There was not much to see so early in the season, though she remembered how warm it had been earlier, which seemed unusual this far south. Perhaps it was a quirk of the Arbor Wilds, or the elvhen magic that permeated the very stones. There was so much of it here, an added fragrance.

"I am happy I could show you this. To show you a little what we were," he said.

"No one wants to be the last," she replied, and she rubbed at her arms. "I feel a chill. Were we going to eat?"

Fen'Harel gazed at her, his sad, wise eyes, and put his hand to her back, guiding her toward a room that beckoned with golden light. "Yes, vhenan. I cherish your patience with me."

He led her into a small chamber where the walls were decked with tapestries picked out in an astonishing abstract pattern. A table low to the ground was already prepared with a dim oil lamp and many dishes of food. They kneeled before it and began to eat. Awkwardly at first, but he gradually lost the tension in his face and hands, reassured by her calm, and eventually his glances began to linger on her face. Considering, thoughtful.

Evin considered the basket of aromatic bread, and recalled her meal partner from earlier in the day.

"Maybe I should ask someone else," she said, "but since you're here, something happened at dinner you might explain. A man served me wine. Then he placed a piece of bread on my plate. I did the same for him. But it seemed to make him rather flustered."

"As for the wine, that is customary. The other custom is an old one. He invited you to bed." His eyes were laughing.

"Oh?" And she arched an eyebrow. "Then I'm disappointed. He was quite good looking."

"Asha'harel," he said fondly, a mock curse.

"I wish I'd known of this sooner. I would have filled up your plate first."

He smiled and lifted no hand to forestall her as she claimed every single piece of bread for her place setting, then transferred them to his.

And he—quite deliberately—returned the favor.

"His friend was quite alarmed," she said thoughtfully, as though she weren't extremely conscious of her blushing cheeks.

"For good reason. I think there may be a rumor circulating about you," he said. His eyes never lifted from hers.

"A good rumor?" she asked.

"I like it," he said. "I think my people may be a little afraid of you once they learn I view you entirely as mine."

"How would they find that out?" she asked.

"Hmm. I imagine they will hear us." And his eyes gleamed. "There are always attendants."

"And what will they hear, Fen'Harel?"

"My passion for you."

He took her fingers and melted a kiss into them, but she felt sad. She didn't want to feel so sad with him.

And he said, "It's all right. I understand."

She blinked away the mist in her eyes. "But you're always sad, at least a little."


"For the people you once knew, for the village you left behind all those years ago. Time feels slower here, the cities are gone, but some of the people remain. I wonder if I'm caught in your dream."

"Only if I am caught in yours."

She felt herself smile. "Ma lath, don't deny me your arms. I want to feel happy with you tonight."

"Then kiss me, vhenan," he said, "and I will not feel so far from home."

She did so, leaning carefully across the table, and tasted the wine on his lips sweetened with honey, the spices and the scent of incense mingled with his own. Tonight she could reach for him and find him in her grasp. She wasn't alone. For how long she didn't know, even with her seer's eyes. But they had promised each other this and they would not deny it, not any longer.

He drew her up from the table, through the chamber into the next room, a much larger one with a platform in the center, a bedchamber she supposed. The lamp that swung from the ceiling was kept in a cage of lace, and it swept a confusing pattern all around, golden light trapped in a curling, coiled maze. She slid her hands inside his pristine but rough-stitched vest, feeling the warmth of his body through his clothes, and pushed it from his shoulders. He caught her hands, his face intent. He kissed her, pressed his mouth against hers, tasting her, catching her lower lip, taking in her tongue. Then released her, swept his tunic over his head, and she pulled loose the wrapping of his undershirt and let it unravel from him.

Ah—his skin—his bare chest—this was what she wanted—recalling how much confused desire she'd felt last night when she'd failed to remember his name. His hands caressed her exposed arms, the bangle cuff that felt jarringly cold against her skin. He pushed her against the low platform, firm but soft, a severe sort of mattress. She wriggled beneath him to a better angle and he gasped a laugh.

She remembered the night they'd shared in the rotunda, a few short years ago for him, longer for her with the time she'd spent in the Fade. The passion they'd felt like a rehearsal, a sudden release that had broken over them and left them raw. That night he'd given her a son—she knew exactly the date. Whatever else it had been, it would always be that. This was different—but it was him, and she yearned for and loved him as much as she ever had.

He unpinned the fastenings of her gown at the shoulders, opening her like the present she'd demanded, stripping away the sheer chemise. And when she lay before him naked she let him gaze at her, then pulled his mouth down to hers.

They were panting, tangled in the Veil, tangled up with each other, their thoughts merging and muddled. She wasn't certain how they stripped the last of their clothes, only knew when she felt his pliant skin beneath her fingers, the unyielding muscles of his thighs, the taut line of his waist down to his ass, and his hands on her hips guiding her closer. Kisses at her neck, burning up, on fire for each other, a lust that mirrored and reflected and grew from heart to heart.

She pressed closer as he lay near her on his side, her eyes closed, blind to everything but the feel of his body against hers.

"Vhenan," he murmured. And she felt him—his need—his desire—everything she wanted—and she slid her thigh over his hip, until she felt that raw heat against her core. She reached for him—felt his iron length buck against her fingers—and when they merged together she felt his aura lock with hers.

She cried out. And the air itself convulsed in a sympathetic exclamation, the sound like a shockwave that pushed everything away. The patterned shadows of the lamp spun and danced, expanding and contracting, hypnotic, syncopated. His blue-gray eyes in heated disbelief, his expression so tender, while they drove each other to an ever finer pitch of ecstasy.

All the colors in the world were hers, the ones he captured in his sight, from majestic red-gold claret to the deep blue before the dawn, rays that lanced out and stained her skin, dyed the very walls. She gasped, her eyes closing in exquisite shock, but that didn't dim them in the least. He pressed a kiss into her neck, ground further into her—up to the hilt, she strained against him—and matched a new rhythm, frantic for release. A bewildering reverie of sleeping flowers hungering for bliss, blossoms heavy with nectar, bursting in summer's fullest heat. And then she shuddered against him. Caught in that relentless aura, her body rode an overwhelming climax, an echo that left her helpless and shivering, a perfect second rapture of his touch.

They clung together, their thoughts mingling like sweat, a luscious, lost confusion.

And when the Dreamers finally slept, the Veil closed in around them, silken and soft, and the temple fell silent again.

Chapter Text

If she wasn't caught in her lover's dream, Evin Lavellan wondered if she was caught in his trap. She was held in Fen'Harel's arms, helpless as her body joined with his, a Dream that merged in ecstasy between the waking world and the Fade. All the way back to the start, before she'd arrived in Hellathen Viran, before their escape through the Crossroads, before Andruil's attack. Fen'Harel had come to Skyhold seeking her, but he'd waited to tell her why. Did she even want to leave? All around her she heard the quiet spirits, the sleeping flowers whispering in the Veil: lath, lath, lath. And her own voice sharing breath with his.

They fell into sleep and fell awake as though exploring the same misty territory, chasing each other into delirium and wakefulness. Their bodies clung together and ran with sweat, content to enjoy the pleasure of their union, as he filled her and they moved together toward a slow and shuddering conclusion. His fingers pressed into her damp skin, her curls fell undone, plastered against her neck. So lovely, so exquisitely intense—if this was betrayal she wanted more, she never wanted it to end.

When she woke again the air was congested with the perfume of a dozen kinds of flowers, an exotic but effervescent bouquet that mingled Fen'Harel's scent with her own. She nudged against him, heard his sleepy wordless acknowledgment. His fingers wandered down her spine, drawing shivers from her as he woke a little more and recalled that she was really here beside him. His drowsy eyes peered into hers, such a lazy, possessive smile. He lowered his mouth to her neck—and his soft kisses took on greater heat.

It was a very pleasant way to wake. She wrapped her free arm around him, the other trapped between him and the bed. She felt his pulse beneath his skin, his slow and steady heartbeat—until it began to race, and she pressed him back into the mattress to get a better angle on his mouth.

His hands grew greedy as his interest sharpened, claiming her breasts, demanding her loins. She fitted herself against him, ground against his thigh until he grew restive and wordlessly complained. She gazed into his impatient eyes, then gave him what he wanted—took him in, enveloped him, rode him as she liked. She had the confused impression of collapsed hours, working his body until his teeth ground and his voice broke into a whisper.

She collapsed against him then, catching her spent breath, and he cried out against her cheek, thrusting harder, jouncing her with his need, driving into her to meet his pleasure.

After, they sank against the bed again, clinging to each other, and slept.

In the morning she woke before he did. She'd always liked sleep less—didn't have his kind of time.

She sat up on the mattress, stretched a little to test her muscles, and saw their clothes had been taken away sometime in the night. She planted a kiss on her immortal lover's cheek—he didn't move, he still wanted sleep.

She also saw—it was difficult to accept at first, though obvious even in the dim light—the floor and walls, almost all, were now dyed an astonishing array of colors. It certainly hadn't been that way last night. Rays of vivid pigment—crimson, azure, gold—sketched out in wings and sprays. Fluting, graceful patterns like a brocade, fanning outward from the bed.

The colors he'd shown her last night, stretched across the Veil, made real.

The perfume of the flowers—

She pushed up from the bed, found the tinted floor comfortable to her bare feet, and padded to the archway that led outside. She found a loose robe there hanging from a peg. She wrapped it around herself and walked through to the garden.

And gasped—

The sleeping flowerbeds—far too early in the spring to blossom—had burst into life. A crazy tapestry of bougainvillea, clematis, star lilies, climbing roses, all blazing back at her in the peak of fullest bloom. And she remembered this, too. She remembered waking them in the dream. Hers—her dream—the one she made for him.

She pressed her hands to her flushed cheeks.

It was a good thing he didn't keep barrels of lamp oil or Qunari gaatlok outside his bedroom.

She walked the flower-lined courtyard for a while, let her fingers caress the silken petals, enjoying the stillness and the giddy joy of knowing the one she loved was near. Then she sighed, and looked out across the expanse of the temple sanctum, past the stone walk lined with pillars.

As happy as she was, a piece of her was missing. And there was so much she had to do.

Evin paced in her bare feet to the rectangular pool of black water in the center of it all, open to the clouded, colorless sky. If she had been in Skyhold, she would have known exactly where to start. But Skyhold was no more—locked in the Fade, and these elvhen had the key. She gazed into the water. A minor breeze stirred against her skin, but the surface didn't move. Not even a ripple. Was it glass? Or something else? Another mystery.

I will bring Revas to you if you agree to stay.

A hint of tears stung her eyes. She balled her hands into fists, pressed her nails into her palms until they hurt. She knew it wasn't a threat—it wasn't a bribe. Fen'Harel honestly believed her son was secure from danger in the Fade. And if she wasn't going to abide by his wisdom, if she was going to risk the Anchor and herself, he wanted their child to be protected, sealed up with their magic in the safest place he knew.

She'd never spent more than two weeks apart from Revas. Even then the ravens brought her messages every night. She needed him with her. If that meant trading her freedom... Maker, she was tempted. She could see it so easily, without even closing her eyes.

But she'd promised Fen'Harel she'd find a way. Thrown it at him like a challenge.

Perhaps the elvhen thought in terms of decades and ages, but she couldn't. She would have to shake these people from their roots. It would raise their ire. She didn't speak their language or know their customs. The little she knew of their history was likely wrong. But she needed their help. She needed to understand them.

She couldn't wait however long they had in mind. Skyhold couldn't. The red lyrium that corrupted it must be cleansed. The keep itself must be restored to the Frostbacks where it belonged. The Inquisition's stronghold—the Herald's symbol—must stand.

Or the world would blame the elves.

The Inquisition, attacked by an elven god—kin to the one who'd opened the Breach. Skyhold, destroyed. Andraste's Herald, kidnapped. The Inquisitor, duchesse of Verchiel, beloved of the Empress and the Divine—disappeared. Did the elvhen not appreciate the danger? Did they not even care? Were they so far above the mortal world, so powerful, they could ignore it completely?

Their descendants didn't have that luxury. The mortal elves would pay the price.

It was a future she had to eliminate.

There would be uncertainty at first. It would take a while for word of what happened to spread. She had some time. But not forever.

She needed to know more. She needed information. A translator. A guide. Someone who knew more than she did about this place.

She must use her unleashed Anchor to find the way.

Her Vianaris—the place she'd built in the Fade to view the future—it was nearly destroyed. She would need to restore that, too. There was so much to do.

She had best plan out her day.

Evin closed her eyes and began to weave her magic.

Difficult with the new Mark—new subtleties, new confusing currents. She hadn't seen these paths before. The danger of trying to read people she didn't know and a culture she knew nothing about. Their language made everything worse. It seemed much could not be translated—multiple simultaneous meanings, all in the interpretation. And the thinness of the Veil, the ever-present magic, all those possibilities....

Hours passed. More than hours in the Fade.

When she opened her eyes the three elvhen attendants stood before her, eyes wide, riveted. But something about them suggested they had been waiting quite some time. Evin's muscles were stiff. When she tried to stand they hurried to help her.

"Were you praying?" the taller, darker one asked. Adaria, Evin now knew.

"Isn't that what one does in a temple?" Evin asked.

"Or meditating," said the lady with golden skin. Tenian.

"Would you like to dress? Or eat?" the third lady asked, the quiet one, who had very short hair. Her name was Merhad.

"I'd like to meet with my companions, those who arrived with me," Evin said. "A man named Voth and a Qunari named Iron Bull. Can it be arranged?"

"Voth we will bring to you. The Qunari is with the healers. Perhaps you would like to visit him?" Adaria suggested.

"The healers? Is Bull badly injured?" Evin asked.

"As to that I cannot say, but I think I would have heard if the matter were serious."

Evin had been so swept up in the wonders of Hellathen Viran, the delights of Fen'Harel's bed, that she'd lost an entire day. She was shocked at herself. Bull had accompanied her to this place out of loyalty and friendship. Now he was hurt and surrounded by strangers. She had to go to him. It was the least she owed him.

"May I see Bull, please?" she asked. "After I dress?"

The three ladies performed a graceful reverence, a sweeping motion with their hands that began near their shoulders and ended in a slight, willowy bow.

They led her to a small, austere dressing chamber and handed her into a heavier robe. The long sleeves hid her hands, and they pulled the hood over her head. When they left the temple the ladies stopped to provide her with shoes, soft slippers made of yellow satin, and they escorted her back to her rooms. There they helped her with a bath.

The ladies exchanged knowing glances over the marks like blue and purple flowers that Fen'Harel had pressed into her skin. Their smiles didn't trouble Evin. She supposed this was like Celene's court, or even Skyhold. Everyone knew the Inquisitor's doings, everyone knew who shared her bed—though that was mainly Revas, these days. Everyone knew who received her attentions, the intimate details of her life. Hellathen Viran must be much the same. If the elvhen honored Fen'Harel, she would be swept up in that interest. She remembered her first visit to the palace in Val Royeaux, how they had given Cullen the chamber next to hers, with a private corridor between them—to please her, or so they thought—but the next time Lysander had that room. Such things could not be hidden. She knew better than to try.

The ladies dressed her in a simple yellow gown that fell from the shoulders, shaped to fit her but unbound at the waist, with a flowing skirt and a cutwork pattern of vines. They oiled her nails, tied back her hair with a silken ribbon, dabbed scent behind her ears—somehow they'd found one much like what she used at home.

She ate a small, quick breakfast, slices of melon and a pale, mild cheese flavored with herbs. There was tea—which got her excited—until she realized it was some sort of elvhen stuff, a very tiny cup of viscous liquid, thick and cloying. She drank it anyway, and thanked Tenian who fetched it for her.

She heard a knock—Merhad went to answer the door. A man handed her a letter, which she brought to Evin. Evin accepted it, opened it, and found it written in elvhen.

She handed it back to Merhad. "I'm afraid I can't read this. Am I meant to know what it says?"

Merhad kept her eyes shyly downcast. "The one known as Varen says he wishes to see you this day."

Varen—who was formerly Abelas. Her jailer? Evin wondered. Or the leader of one faction of jailers?

"So soon?" Evin asked. "What an impatient immortal. I thought introductions took years among the elvhen."

"Please don't be offended," Tenian exclaimed. "He meant it as a honor. Probably, that is."

"We want you to be happy here," Adaria said. Her voice was calm.

They wanted their captive to be happy. Evin gazed at the three women, their earnest apprehension, and felt a little amazed. "I'm not offended. It was a small joke. Very small, apparently. I'm surprised he waited so long to summon me, to be honest."

Merhad made a small, disbelieving smile. "Summon? He would not dare. It is a request you may refuse."

But Evin knew very well she could not refuse. Not to attain the future she desired.

"Did you three choose to serve me, or did someone appoint you?" Evin asked.

"Oh, we find you very interesting. We enjoy it," Adaria said.

"How else would we be allowed to approach the sanctum except to serve you, ruan'asha?" Merhad said. "It is sanctified—holy to us."

"None of us has served a reigning queen before," Tenian said.

A queen? Evin supposed that was a close enough translation of her rank. She only bowed before the Empress in the Empress' own house or as a courtesy. She was not Celene's subject. The Divine preceded her—but as the Herald, that was a matter of theological debate.

"We were born princesses," Adaria explained, "but of course that is meaningless now."

"You were all princesses?" Evin asked. "You know I'm a commoner, don't you?"

"All the People are, these days," Tenian said.

"It's better this way," Merhad said carefully.

But the way she said it made Evin think some elvhen must disagree.

Adaria handed her a lace shawl before they left, and Evin followed the ladies down a series of galleries to an outer part of the temple. Over the course of the morning the clouds had burned away, and now sunlight dappled the paths between the trees. They reached a long, low building with a flat roof.

And as they entered she heard what sounded like a crowd. And... laughter.

"Isn't this an infirmary?" Evin asked.

The ladies looked puzzled.

"It's usually much quieter here," Adaria said. "I can't imagine—"

Evin strode forward—elbowed her way through what seemed a sudden throng of people. If Bull was here—injured, needing rest—alone and among strangers—. She shouldn't have delayed. She should have checked the branches, made certain he was all right. Just because she knew she'd see him later didn't mean—

Evin struggled into the room. And then she stopped, because she was a little shocked. And that didn't happen to her often.

"Inquisitor!" Bull said, giving her a cheery wave.

Bull. Surrounded by a dozen elvhen women. Three were seated on his bed. There were plates of cakes and glasses of what looked like wine and even a few musical instruments. There were more elvhen nearby chatting excitedly.

"You look... merry," Evin said.

"How's temple life?" Bull asked, and gave her a knowing leer.

"They told me you were injured."

"Yeah, stitches reopened. I'll be fine. That's what happens when you fight Andruil's sentinels," Bull said.

And some of the ladies giggled.

"It's a shame, because I'm not supposed to exert myself physically," Bull said. "For a few days."

"There's a tragedy," Evin said. Her lips began to twitch.

"Say, I hear there's a banquet tonight. Think you can convince the healer to let me go?"

"I'll take care of it," Evin said, because she knew she would.

"You're the best."

"I'll—let you get back to your visitors," Evin said.

She pushed her way through the crowd of onlookers to exit Bull's room—and almost stumbled into Ilgarla.

"Did you come to see Bull too?" Evin asked.

"Why would I do that," the woman snapped. But when she saw Evin's escort she seemed to recall herself. Ilgarla sketched a very hasty reverence. Then she abruptly turned on her heel and left, muttering to herself.

"What an odd, angry woman," Evin said.

"It's difficult for the young," Adaria said, "who do not know what they want."

Evin took a moment to peer ahead—to see what she could of Ilgarla—and suddenly laughed. "A banquet, was it? I think she'll find out soon enough."

Chapter Text

After Evin Lavellan left Iron Bull in the infirmary she lingered in the forested grounds of the temple, accompanied by her three immortal attendants: Adaria, Tenian, and Merhad. As they walked the ladies told her about the labor the elvhen performed to restore Hellathen Viran, about the newly awakened ancients who joined them. What Evin wanted to ask, but didn't, was why. Why did you wait so long to return? Why now? And she thought of Abelas, the sentinel of Mythal who dwelt here under a new name in the service of Fen'Harel. He'd asked to see her, a request that for her was as voluntary as breathing.

She had questions she wanted him to hear.

To escape the elvhen Evin would need to understand them. Negotiation was always a process of seeing things from your adversary's point of view. But she wasn't certain the best way to achieve that, how to slip into their rhythms. She'd seen much this morning in her examination of the near future. Many, if not most, of these ancients must consider her shem, a quick-blooded cousin if any kind of relative at all. The ones who did not treat her like a child would dismiss her as casually as her Dalish kin did humans.

Adaria asked what Evin would like to do next, explaining that the elvhen considered it too early in the day to engage in serious or civic matters. Before the sun met its peak they preferred to practice physical pursuits. Dancing, riding, archery, whatever caught their interest.

"I doubt I compare to any of the dancers here," Evin said, thinking of last night's musicians and their unearthly skill.

"There are always new dances," Merhad said kindly.

"You could teach us some of yours," Tenian suggested.

"Archery, I think," Evin said. "I've missed some days of practice."

They walked along a winding, gravel-lined path beside a swift and narrow stream full of leaping silver fish. Eventually they reached a meadow where branches shaded them from the sun. There they found a number of bows and practice targets. Evin and Adaria selected a target and took turns aiming at it. Adaria was more accurate, but Evin was much faster, with a trick of anchoring her next shot before the last arrow even struck.

After a while she noticed a rumpled man in a wide-brimmed straw hat watching them. Then he walked over, muttering at her in a long string of elvhen. The words flooded over her ears like water, but she caught only snatches of intent. The man gestured at her draw hand several times.

Evin lifted an arrow—watching him carefully—and adjusted the angle at which she held her wrist.

The man nodded, grunting approval.

Evin drew and let her arrow fly.

It flew toward the target—perhaps a bit straighter this time.

The man stalked away, stopping next at another group of archers practicing their craft.

"I wondered if you would translate," Evin said to the ladies, when the man had gone.

"You understood him perfectly well," Adaria said, lifting her eyebrows.

"And if I hadn't?" Evin asked.

"Surahn said this would be the fastest way for you to learn," Tenian explained. "He agreed."

He did. Fen'Harel. Yet the process of learning a language would take—she thought—months, and that included the certain advantages she had. She didn't have that kind of time. She couldn't get what she wanted from the elvhen if she didn't speak their tongue. Especially if she had to deal with a being as proud and uncompromising as Abelas-known-as-Varen. She needed a translator—someone who would obey her, not him.

She needed her sentinel.

She needed Voth.

The ladies would bring him to her, she told herself. She just had to wait a little longer.

They continued practicing for a while. Evin paid strict attention to her form, and was rewarded, she observed, with a bit more accuracy.

When her arms were pleasantly tired the ladies brought her a cup of fresh water flavored with juice and urged her to rest. She allowed them to guide her back to her room.

As they returned to the temple proper they passed more elvhen—elves who stared openly to see her there among them. She was accustomed to being gawked at by strangers, though not perhaps by ancients. She wished she could stare back without lessening her mystique. The elvhen wore such a variety of clothes, fashions stark and plain or fanciful as peacock feathers, everything from layered hoop-skirts that swung like bells to bare-legged doublets. Either they were absolute individualists or they expressed identity in a way she didn't understand. Excepting, of course, the armor of the sentinels—that was largely the same, a uniform almost.

Surahn, the statuesque woman who had greeted her when she'd first arrived at the temple, met them at the entrance of the gallery to Evin's room. She fell in beside Evin and motioned at the ladies to continue walking.

"I hope your stay has been pleasant thus far," Surahn said.

"It has. Thank you for taking such good care of my friend Iron Bull," Evin said.

"I will pass along your praise to the healers," Surahn replied. "I wonder if there is anything we might do to increase your happiness while you settle in."

Evin considered the elliptical way Surahn phrased her questions. I hope. I wonder if. She thought carefully. "I've always enjoyed writing. I wonder if I might have some supplies. Ink and paper and so on."

Surahn regarded her with thoughtful eyes. "Fen'Harel told us you are fond of philosophy and poetry, that you write things of a technical nature."


"It will be arranged. Anything else?"

"I mentioned this before, but I hope I might see my friend Voth, who arrived with me. I don't know what's become of him."

"Voth has been with the other somniari, assisting with the temple restoration. I will ask him to visit you today."

"Thank you. Then I can think of nothing else."

Surahn nodded.

The ladies showed her into her chamber, and opening the door they all filed inside—except now there was barely enough room for all of them to fit.

Cut flowers in baskets and vases covered nearly every available table, chair, and surface. Evin edged further inside, avoiding a pair of urns that stood near her bed, showering the pillows with vines of clinging roses like a trellis.

"What's this?" she asked. Astonished, she reached for a spray of roses to feel their dark, waxy leaves.

Surahn wore an amused expression. "Fen'Harel sent them to you. With a note."

The lady plucked a small, folded piece of parchment from its place in a stand of lilies and handed it to Evin, who opened it with eager fingers. She recognized Fen'Harel's refined, efficient handwriting—and what must be his signature written in elvhen characters.

I send my love

With my thanks for your improvement to my gardens, vhenan.

Evin laughed, a light sound, elated. And she lowered her face to the roses like a kiss, feeling their petals brush her cheeks, almost giddy with delight. She wondered where he was. Busy, she thought, just as she was. She hoped the hours until she could see him again would speed by.

"Perhaps you would like to see Varen in a little while," Surahn suggested. "There are other things you might do, of course."

"Yes. Varen," Evin said. But that was not the only thing she planned.

The ladies helped her don a fresh gown. She sat patiently while Tenian and Merhad pinned up her hair and Surahn stuck sprays of star-like, ivory stephanotis into her mass of curls. Evin filled her pockets with star lilies, and they all left together.

Surahn excused herself when they reached the atrium, and Evin paused to gaze curiously at the elvhen passing by. She was looking for someone in particular, a person she thought would be here soon, but she didn't know exactly when.

It was almost too easy to guide her attendants, pretending to be amazed at the intricate pattern of blue and green glass embedded like jewels in the tiled floor. The pattern was traditional, Merhad explained, and Evin asked several questions which the ladies were happy to answer. No one was in a hurry. Abelas could wait—there were no set times for anything.

And when she stepped out into the passageway, and collided with someone coming the other way, she stumbled quite naturally—only his quick reflexes prevented them both from falling.

It was the man from dinner. The one who gave her bread.

"Ara seranna-ma," Evin said.

The man released her quickly and stepped away. A few short phrases of elvhen—was she all right? Was she injured? He was quite sorry. He had auburn hair, she noticed, and gray eyes, and he wore armor like a sentinel, except the scales were blue instead of bronze.

"May I ask your name?" she asked.

He hesitated, glancing behind her at the attendants. He didn't know the common tongue.

She tried again in Tevene.

"I am Taren'nan, my lady," he said. In the exquisite, rounded accent of ancient Tevinter.

"My name is Evin," she replied.

His face made a perfect grimace of discomfort, though he quickly replaced it with an easy, polite smile. "We all know that," he said, "as I should have last night. My apologies for offending you with my imprudent offering. And for my clumsiness just now." And he made a diminished reverence.

She returned it a little stiffly, as she'd had no opportunity to practice. "I am new here and ignorant of your customs. For my part there's no offense. I hope you will accept my apology for my ignorant actions."

"I am happy to understand you," Taren'nan said. And he glanced around them, intending to depart.

Not just yet, Evin thought. This man would not escape until he paid her price.....

"Wait," she said. She drew a flower from her pocket and offered it to him. "I have an abundance of these. I wonder if you might accept one, with my apology."

"A flower from Fen'Harel's garden." Again he made that pained grimace.

"A friend can accept a gift from a friend," Evin said.

I have so few friends here, she thought.

"Yes," he said, still wavering. Curiosity dueling caution. And then he seemed to give an inward shrug, and accepted the star lily with a cordial smile. "It's lovely."

"Thank you," she said.

He hesitated again, then laughed, a little wry. "If I may suggest... don't offer food to anyone but Fen'Harel."

"I wouldn't dream of it," she said.

"Perhaps your ladies will instruct you," he said, glancing at them with a hint of irritation.

"I'll make sure to ask."

And so they parted—she and her new acquaintance, with his slightly worried smile.

She could think of no other reason to delay, so she let the ladies lead her further inside the temple.

When she climbed the stairs to meet with Varen she found the door to the chamber slightly ajar. She looked back at her escort, but the ladies seemed determined to wait outside. Evin pushed through the door and entered.

Varen sat at the midpoint of a long, rectangular table. Before him was a chess board, scattered pieces. He pretended to study them.

"Welcome, Herald," Varen said. The low but modulated voice she remembered so well from the Temple of Mythal—when he'd exchanged words with Solas, and she'd understood almost none of what they'd truly said.

She must do better this time.

The former sentinel gazed at her—dispassionate golden eyes, pallid skin. "Would you care to join me?"

"Of course," she said.

And Evin walked forward to meet her jailer.

Chapter Text

Everyone was gone, every blighted one, and Shayd Sutherland was pissed. When Skyhold had disappeared her husband had too. And she was enduring it—shocked and hollow and grieving—but mostly furious. Shayd channeled that energy into the rescue efforts, filled the void inside her with impatience and blazing hot anger.

"Another one over here!" she shouted to the recovery team at her back.

Skyhold had been gone for several days, but there were still more bodies to find.

And she was Lady Sutherland, so people looked to her for guidance even when she had no idea what to do. What did you say when dragons appeared out of nowhere, clawed each other to pieces in the sky, and the whole of your world vanished in an instant?

Shayd had been present at the gatehouse when the fortress disappeared. She'd seen what happened with her own eyes—and recounted it several times to gasps of horrified disbelief.

First the air had filled with a ghostly light. Then a pillar of unholy magic pierced the heavens while a ominous, crashing noise jarred the marrow of her bones and roiled her bowels like jelly. It had been like the Breach all over again—strange, terrifying—until it suddenly ended. It had taken her husband and the Inquisition with it.

She knew Donnal was probably dead. Only Andraste's grace could save him now. Good men like him—who ran at trouble to save others—they always kicked it first. It was just her luck to have fallen in love with such an enormous fool.

Now there were only the frozen corpses to find, the remains of Inquisition soldiers who had struggled with monsters and died. Their bodies had been swept from the walls by the Maker-cursed creatures who'd come to attack the Herald. For Shayd there was only work and anger and grief and bone-deep fatigue.

Krem and some of the other warriors from Bull's company crunched over to her in their snowshoes. They were linked together with ropes for safety on the steep path.

"That way?" Krem said, his voice already rough from shouting.

Shayd pointed to the bit of cloth almost buried by the snow, flapping like a bat's wing in the sharp wind. She pulled her scarf below her mouth so he could hear her better. "That's one, there," she said.

"Poor bastard," Krem said.

Shayd didn't have any imprecations left for such things. "There might be another sorry fool down that ridge," she said. "I'll have a look."

"Wait," Krem said. "Sure you don't want to take a break? You've been working for hours."

"Don't be an ass, Krem," Shayd said.

"It's been days, Shayd. You know there's no chance—"

"No. But we can't leave them here."

She would keep searching. Just in case—

In case she found her stubborn ass.

Shayd followed the sharp descent from the village road, below the suddenly truncated bridge that once lead into the vanished keep. The villagers had strung lines to help the searchers. Shayd followed one now below the ridge. Once she made it past the steepest rocks, the terrain evened out. She could walk along the flat without much more than iron nails driven into her boots for traction. The wind drove snow into her eyes, a last bit of screw you from the waning winter, which swirled into eddies across the broad, flat plain where Skyhold used to be. Unearthly sigils, marks of magic, crawled across the otherwise featureless expanse, a shallow bowl cradled by the mountains.

Shayd picked her way among the boulders, placing her feet carefully, testing her tread on the ice and crust of snow. She peered through the falling clumps of snowflakes, trying to discern the telltale signs of fallen men and women.

And there—beneath a treacherous ridge of rock, she saw one.

"Damned scatterbrained fool," she muttered under her breath. Not angry at the dead, angry at herself. For doing this. For pushing forward even when she knew it was hopeless.

Krem was right. She should probably rest. She was just going to get herself hurt or killed, and who would that help? No one.

But even as she shook her head at her own idiocy, Shayd pressed forward toward the body.

When she got closer she thought something was off about it—but her brain was occupied with the cold, the biting wind, and the treacherous footing. It took her a while to notice what was wrong—

The body wasn't covered by the snow.

And when Shayd reached the man, she saw the skin of his neck, pale beneath what was probably a tan. An elf with his face bare to the cold and the points of his ears white as bone. She reached for him—and realized his body wasn't frozen through. His thin limbs flexed easily when she tried to move his hand. The snow on his face was melted around his mouth. From his breath.

He was alive.

"Holy fucking Fade," Shayd said, and began to panic.

She shoved the slender man onto his back, brushed the snow from his exposed skin with shaking, mittened hands. "Elf, wake up!" she shouted at him, not really hoping that he would.

But after a few moments of her chafing his chalky cheeks and shouting in his pointy ears, the elf began to stir.

He whispered something she couldn't quite make out. His eyes flew open and he tried to sit up, but couldn't.

"Shayd?" the elf said. His voice was very soft.

"Lysander Lavellan, you sorry villain," she said, astonished. "How are you even alive?"

She offered him some whiskey from a flask. He took several swigs and had a bit more color after each one.

He muttered something else she didn't understand, then gave a sardonic shake of his head. "That good-for-nothing wolf locked me out." She thought that was what he said. He sounded mildly irritated, like Donnal did when he couldn't find a pair of matching socks. "My beacon rebounded against his wall. I almost died. Can you imagine the inconvenience?"

"What happened?" Shayd asked, trying to pry some sense out of the mage's cold-addled brains. "Do you know what became of Skyhold? Did you see what happened to the others?"

"It's hardly a secret, Shayd." The elf's bloodshot purple eyes met hers. "I'll tell you everything."

And he stood—with her amazed assistance—and gazed out at the twisted circle of sigils, the only trace that remained of Skyhold.

"What a mess," he said, and laughed.

Evin Lavellan walked silently toward her jailer, the former sentinel of Mythal. She composed her hands before her to conceal the tension in her fingers, but it probably radiated from her in a thousand other ways. Her face, her carriage, her stride.

The future stretched before her, days that blurred into weeks and months and years. To win free she would have to navigate the maze. There had to be a solution. As charming as Hellathen Viran had been, she couldn't turn her back on the world and the people who relied on her. The elvhen were wrong. She had to show them that, but if she didn't manage it by persuasion—

She didn't want to make Fen'Harel's people her enemies. They were glorious, precious remnants of the past. They'd been kind to her... so far.

Varen sat at the far end of the room before a wide, narrow table, regarding her with the infinite patience of an immortal. His chamber was longer than it was wide, designed for an audience. Perhaps his sentinels gathered before him to listen, or around the table to plan. The walls were pale orange stone and matched the rest of the temple proper. The ceiling was vaulted with immense cedar beams and a few swinging lamps on chains.

I agree with their consensus, Fen'Harel had told her. Was this the man who crafted it?

When she reached the table Varen extended a graceful, bloodless hand toward the chair across from his. She pulled it out and sat down, sweeping her skirts behind her.

A chessboard rested between them on the table. Most of the pieces were to one side, the others were scattered across the board like an unfamiliar constellation. The endgame. The pieces before her were black.

"Perhaps you will join me, Herald," Varen said. "Allow me to reset the board."

"I don't intend to stay that long," Evin said.

His cool golden eyes gazed back at her, evaluating. He made a dismissive gesture with his left hand. "Are you in such a hurry, young one? Let us finish this game at least."

"I don't play chess. Besides, the game is over," she said

"A new player may revive it."

She kept her voice as cold as his. "Why waste my time with a game someone else has lost? White's already won."

Varen regarded her with quiet appraisal. "You see it at a glance. You said you do not play."

Evin picked up the alabaster king. And she swept her will across the board, clearing all the losing pieces. "Now you know why."

Varen smiled, though the expression didn't stir his watchful eyes. He reached for the board—and rotated it in one smooth motion, so that the winning white side was before her. "Fen'Harel's game," he said. "I was studying his tactics."

"He defeated you?" she asked. "Of course."

"We have played before, but this time he surprised me," Varen said. "That is uncommon in one so ancient. He chased disaster. He risked everything to save a single piece. I have not seen his play so corrupted before."

"It must have been a valuable piece—to inspire such a victory."

"Even a queen must fall when posed against the enemy's united strength," Varen said. "Perhaps a different game will interest you more. If you would follow me."

The elvhen rose from his chair. Without looking back he walked through a doorway into a smaller chamber with warmer light, where faded tapestries covered the walls. Some pieces of wooden furniture, a few small tables, a narrow bed.

He gestured toward a rectangular block of wood about knee-high, resting on the floor on four squat legs. A grid of lines was marked on the surface. Evin knelt before it, following his example, and Varen pushed a covered wooden bowl at her. She lifted the lid—rounded black tokens, perfect convex stones.

"We call this game aravas. Tevinter named it saepio, but a better translation might be 'enclosing game'. I find it more elegant than chess."

He demonstrated—the idea was to surround your opponent's territory by capturing his pieces. They took turns laying tokens, not really playing, while he tested her grasp of each concept. Evin dipped occasionally into the branches to make sure she understood. She didn't want to mimic without meaning. As a game, aravas felt... more open than chess. It had more possibilities.

If chess was a simulated battle, this was a war fought on simultaneous fronts. She thought it probably suited her.

Varen judged her well.

"I understand you are a mother, da'len," the elvhen said, studying the board. "I am a parent also. When your child wishes to touch a red-hot coal, do you let him? Or do you slap his hand away?"

"I would never slap my child," Evin said. "Violence teaches how the strong bully the weak. A coal won't kill him."

"Something more dangerous, then. Lyrium? You would seek to prevent him out of concern for his well-being."

Evin regarded the ancient with amusement. "Since you're a parent you know all children differ. Revas is... a bit of a hellion. If I tried to control him he'd sneak behind my back and probably do something worse. An active child needs more than words. He needs evidence, experience."

"If his actions troubled everyone around him, would you still insist he learn through experience?"

"I wouldn't allow him to burn my house down, no, hahren."

The response he wanted. Varen began to speak, but Evin interrupted.

"Of course, we speak of children," she continued. "Where adults are concerned it's sometimes necessary to correct our elders... when they stray from reason."

Varen pushed his bowl of game tokens aside. "Your elders are incomparably wiser than you, da'len."

Evin gave him her kindest smile, as though he were a witness brought before her in judgment. "Fen'Harel tells me of your consensus, that I must stay here. Whose consensus? Who decides? Who sits behind this 'no'?"

"Our people have changed since the empire fell," the former sentinel told her haughtily. "We no longer obey kings and queens the way your people obey you. Everything is decided in Council."

"Can I speak with them?" she asked.

"Do you think they would hear a child? Does Revas have a voice in your government?"

They thought her a child. She'd expected that, but the words still rankled. "If the matter concerned the freedom of his remaining years, he would have an advocate, yes."

He steepled his fingers together over the board and lowered at her. "You will have your chance to persuade them if they allow you a voice. That is not up to me."

"When?" she asked. The key.

"The affinities will not meet for another week at least," he said.

"No. Tomorrow."

"That cannot—"

"Tomorrow," she insisted. "I am somniari. You cannot keep me here. I must have my chance to speak."

"Hasty child," he said angrily. "Accept your gifts and be grateful. You have no idea what you would destroy."

Evin's temper snapped at being forced to play this game—in every sense—enraged by every outcome she couldn't change no matter what she said.

She snatched up a handful of game tokens and slapped them down on the board, one at a time. The next sixteen moves. "You're the one who doesn't understand. Do your people want my help or an enemy? Fen'Harel sees this more clearly than you."

His expression was unreadable. "It cannot be done in a day."

She shook her head, wordless with fury. Though of course she knew he was right—tomorrow didn't happen. But she had to impress on this dawdling ancient the importance of her time.

Maybe it was her anger that did it. Maybe that was what changed his mind, stung a new response. He told her something he hadn't intended to. Not today, maybe not for years.

"How easily immortals forget I don't have time to wait," she said bitterly.

Varen's mouth spread in a disbelieving smile. "Then he did not tell you. Of course he did not. Fen'Harel would not wish to influence your decision. He would prefer you to stay because you agree with our consensus. He believes you have some wisdom. Foolish god."

She just glared. "What?"

"I thought it possible you would sense it—our pious guest. A Dreamer with undiluted blood so sensitive to the Veil. You fell into our ways of thought the moment you arrived. Surahn confirmed it in your aura. You have all the time in the world, da'len, all the time we have. If you stay."

"All the time you have—"

"This is the choice. This is what the god truly offers. Stay here among us and be immortal. Or leave. And die."

Chapter Text

After she learned she was immortal Evin Lavellan asked to see her god. But her captors demurred. The ladies resisted with genteel regret, as though they'd rather honor any other whim, patient and unyielding as a wall that gently refused to be pounded down. It was the first thing the elvhen ever refused her—and the first she'd truly needed.

Evin tried to conceal the trembling in her voice, the shaking in her hands. "May I please speak with him? Will you tell him I asked?" she told her three attendants.

And their beautiful, painted eyes filled with dismay. The notion of disturbing Fen'Harel was not one they dared to contemplate—and yet Evin wouldn't have asked if she didn't need him utterly. And wasn't that strange? In this place her self-reliance crumbled as though her inner strength was an illusion, a fiction built by the Inquisition and the world outside.

No, she told herself. That wasn't true. She wasn't a flower in Fen'Harel's garden. She would become the storm that swept over it.

But how she yearned to see him—to talk through her confusion. Why hadn't he told her? Was Varen right?

Stay here among us and be immortal. Or leave and die.

The former sentinel had laughed at her amazement, the exact response he'd wanted. These elvhen were canny, wise beyond knowing. They dealt secrets like shuffled cards, never matching the same behavior twice. How often could a seer be surprised? Once per conversation?

She'd never win her freedom like this.

I need the Vianaris, she told herself. But her sanctuary in the Fade had taken years to build. She didn't have that kind of time!

She wanted to walk to calm herself. She needed to pace. Or sit, or something. Her attendants stared so much she felt like she was one of the tigers Celene kept in her zoo. Evin asked the ladies for a garden—a useless thing they were more than happy to provide.

When they reached the enclosed terrace Evin asked to be alone. She walked among the rows of budding plants for several minutes trying to compose herself. It didn't help. The shades of green kept blurring with tears. When had she ever felt this uncertain, this friendless? Too many questions, too little calm.

Finally she sat on a marble bench warmed by the sunlight. She pressed her hands to her forehead so she wouldn't cry and sank over her knees. And when the shaking left her body, when she no longer gasped for breath, she straightened her posture and let herself relax into the Fade.

Normally the trance felt like crossing through a current, a cascade of water flowing the wrong way. Here it barely took a thought. The Fade was where Evin went when she needed to sort through her emotions. But she didn't know the Fade in Hellathen Viran.

It was... almost a duplicate of the waking world. She found herself in a garden indistinguishable from the one she'd left. There was a haziness to everything, a softness that whispered Fade, but otherwise the same.

Would she encounter elvhen here, other Dreamers? Was Fen'Harel here, if by some chance he walked the Fade? Could that be why they hadn't wanted to disturb him? Her heartbeat quickened.

She left the garden terrace and walked forward into the temple of dreams.

The hallways were deserted. Lamplight flickered against the pale orange walls as if it were night, though the sky in the Fade didn't change with the sun. She followed a wide corridor until it turned a corner, where she chose a path that led into the central part of the temple. Further inside, up each run of stairs, past ghostly remembrances of sentinels keeping watch, keepers at their prayers. Toward the sanctum, where he dwelt.

There was a nebulous kind of music that grew louder—the reverberation of voices lifted in plainsong—a mysterious, somber melody repeated in a round. Words that spoke of death like a person, a friend.

Finally Evin reached the last pair of graven doors. The song diminished slightly as though she'd passed by the chorus, as though they weren't allowed to trespass this close to the holy of holies.

She hesitated and then removed her shoes. And hurried up the steps into the sanctum.

And met a horror—

A memory preserved by the Fade, a traumatic impression of the past restored by mournful spirits. Something terrible had happened here.

Elves in chains. Prisoners or slaves. Thin creatures, nearly naked, clothed in rags and blood. They stood or crouched in rows that lined the entire open pavilion. The space echoed with their sobs of fear.

Hands she couldn't see selected one of the slaves, the nearest, and dragged him forward. Hands that didn't care strongly enough to be remembered. But the slave did. He screamed, eyes white all round with frightful dread, face a twisted mask of vallaslin. He thrashed against the hands that bound him. He was far too weak to win free.

How she wished she could look away! How many times had she witnessed horrors in the branching futures—but never this much despair and fear.

She followed the terrified slave to the center of the pavilion, the axis of the sanctum, beside the pool. There the unseen hands stretched out the prisoner over a flat gray stone, crudely carved as though from immense age. Different hands wielded a knife at his throat, silenced the choking cries. They pushed the slave's body into the still, black water of the pool.

The body disappeared, swallowed up by the water.

"Dead lyrium," Fen'Harel said beside her. "Falon'Din's door to the Beyond."

She closed her eyes for a moment, both from relief and to shut out the memory of the dying man. Then she looked up at him. "Falon'Din killed his own people?"

The sharp planes of his face were bleak with memory. He made a grimace of loathing. "His sacrifices ran night and day," her lover said. His words were low and vicious. "Until he was defeated. An internal matter, the others said. They only took up arms against him when he waged his wars to win more followers."

"I can't—." She gasped and forced herself to look away from the newest sacrifice, a woman dragged toward the altar. "I don't want to see any more—make it stop! Please!"

He pulled her close, wrapped her in his arms, and she hid her face in his chest. She felt his arm move as he gestured, felt the resolute contraction of his will as he dispersed the scene around them.

"It's all right," he said in a soft voice.

She didn't lift her head. She wanted to hide in his presence, at least until the screams faded from her ears. "This is why you imprisoned them," she said.

"Such things must never happen again. The Veil must remain intact. Let Falon'Din sleep behind the mirror with his brother. We will make better memories here, vhenan."

She raised her face to look at him, questioning. "A thousand years of better memories?"

"I'll take what I can get," he said, a little stubborn. "Varen told you. Of course—you persuaded him to say what he should not."

"You planned it? You knew?" she whispered.

His gray eyes gazed at her fondly. "I hoped. I did not know for certain until... last night." And he looked away from her for a moment with a pleased, clever smile.

That was why he'd gazed at her so sadly when she told him she intended to leave. He hadn't told her what he hoped—to spare her? To avoid influencing her decision? And he'd discovered the truth when he held her, when he saw how tangled she was in the dream.

And she'd made him promise not to interfere.

"I'm so sorry," she said.

"You promised to find a way, vhenan," he reminded her with a smile.

"I said I'd find a way to leave."

"Then you must also find a way to come back. How can I accept it otherwise?" he asked. His fingers toyed with a lock of her hair. She leaned closer to him, feeling the sudden heat of his aura in the Fade.

Even if she did return someday, what kind of eternal life meant living in a prison? If immortality required her to dwell in this one place forever, what was the point? Did he believe she could endure such a life?

If it was for him... or if the same somehow applied to Revas...

Tears stung her eyes, her chest heaved with the strength of emotion she couldn't release. She almost broke down. She was so tempted. But she couldn't stay here. No matter how much she wanted it she couldn't turn aside from what she had to do.

Maybe his love was greater than hers. In the Grove of Ghilan'nain he'd made himself walk away. He'd ended things with her—because otherwise he couldn't force himself to continue on his path. Now she understood that pain from the inside.

"These tears are why I wish he had not told you," Fen'Harel murmured.

"It's better that I know. I would have seen it eventually," she said.

"I suppose that's true." But he didn't sound convinced.

"You mean it wasn't all part of a cunning plot?" she asked, smiling up at him despite her heartache.

"I would not go that far," he hedged. "You rose too early this morning. I've neglected you. How do you feel? Are you well?"

Yes, she would much rather think of that—the night they'd spent together, the languid ache in muscles unaccustomed to certain forms of exercise. "I'm excellent, really. And so happy to you see you. But I shouldn't steal more of your time. The ladies were quite insistent."

"The others can wait," he said offhandedly. "Come with me, vhenan."

And he leaned over her with a kiss—and as his lips touched hers she woke up...

To find him standing beside her in the temple garden. He offered his hand.

"Where to?" she asked, accepting it. When she stood she reached for him, traced the line of the twinned leather thongs of the bone pendant down his chest. She grinned wickedly. "Or did you have something else in mind, Dread Wolf?"

He sucked in a quick breath. "I—. You have no idea how enticing you are. I interrupted a meeting of my advisers—"

She let her hands return to her sides. "Ah. I won't keep you."

"That is not what I meant. I hoped you would attend, to meet some of them. Unless you have other plans. I would by no means interrupt a cunning plot of yours."

"What if mine requires yours? Lead on, Dread Wolf."

In Fen'Harel's company the temple was a very different place than when Evin traveled through it with her attendants. The corridors were eerily silent. No other elvhen in the suddenly empty atrium, no curious watchers to observe. She had no idea where Adaria, Tenian, and Merhad had gone. The only souls she saw were sentinels posted at the doors to the consecrated parts of the temple, and their eyes were fixed straight ahead. Did the elvhen scurry out of sight before their god arrived? Or did they make some warning when he approached?

Did he know they did this for him? Of course he did. He must.

How lonely.

When they returned to the inner temple he didn't lead her to the sanctum. Instead he chose a different corridor, one she hadn't previously followed.

They entered a long but narrow room similar to the one where she'd found Varen. Veilfire in the lamps shed a cool glow on the carved stone walls. The table here was much larger than Varen's. Several elvhen stood around it, conversing with each other.

They immediately fell silent.

And Evin sensed Fen'Harel's immediate irritation, swiftly crushed.

She followed him to stand beside the table. And now she was the Inquisitor, listening to her former companion introduce her to a number of people who regarded her with—bemusement? Interest? Lofty disdain. Perhaps a bit of fondness, as though they humored her presence.

Taren'nan was here. He wore her lily on his sleeve. Cautious silver eyes.

This was Fen'Harel's War Council. Generals and advisers, mostly clad in armor as though they had lately come from the field or practice yard. They didn't have the bearing of sentinels accustomed to obeying orders.

Fen'Harel spoke elvhen to them, which meant she caught the intent of what he said but none of the subtext or specifics. No branch existed where she understood. She heard him say her name—she thought he phrased it, "Evin descended from Sect Lavellan of the Dales."

"Avanna," she said to greet them. If like Taren'nan some elvhen didn't know the common tongue, she would use Tevene. It was awkward but the best she could do.

Fen'Harel must have agreed because he proceeded to recite their names to her, providing a brief résumé of each in Tevene.

And then they all returned to the map.

She joined them at the table and gazed at it while voices discussed various things in elvhen. It was a map of Thedas, but... not quite correct. The tracks of rivers didn't match the ones she knew. The coastline of the Waking Sea had changed quite dramatically in places. Entire cities weren't depicted. Several thousand years out of date? The lines one normally drew on a map to indicate political boundaries were not there. Instead there were overlapping circles. The Wilds. Tevinter. The forest of Arlathan—clearly not depicted as a forest. Of course, for these elvhen Arlathan was a city, perhaps even their home—a thought that made her shiver, to realize she shared a room with breathing relics of the past. And she'd... slept with one.

She forced her mind to focus.

Some places on the map were marked with specific symbols. She deduced one that meant 'temple' and looked to find the ones that corresponded to Mythal and Dirthamen.

There were markers on the map. Black and white stones. Forces.

They were arguing over a particular site in Brecilia, far away in eastern Ferelden. It wasn't marked with the temple symbol but one similar to that. Many frowns, many fingers stabbed at that location. Anora had given the Brecilian Forest to the Dalish, but the Dalish had no idea how one held land. A disastrous situation. The humans thought if land was not being farmed in settlements they could walk past the treaty, claim what they wanted, and not call it stealing. It had led to constant fighting on the border. The clans had even tried to expel villages of humans that had lived in the Forest for hundreds of years. The countryside was up in arms. The Dalish attacked humans on sight while the humans built up stores of weapons, petitioning the queen for permission to clear out the warlike knife-ears.

And now it seemed the elvhen meddled there too. Perfect.

One of the generals—Era'garas—slid a white marker over to the spot in Brecilia. Fen'Harel looked at it, then nodded sharply, drew in a breath to speak—

"No," Evin said.

Every single face turned towards her.

Fen'Harel wanted to wrap her in silk and put her in a box, a trinket he meant to protect from the world. He thought of the Mark like a jewel or a gem. But the Anchor was a brilliant weapon. Once he acknowledged that it would save him.

Evin picked up a black stone from the pile beside the map and placed it next to the white piece. She added another, threatening to capture or kill. The general's face creased in disbelief.

"You invite a slaughter," she said in Tevene.

"How do you know this, falon?" Taren'nan asked.

And she felt Fen'Harel's eyes on her, evaluating. Did she intend to reveal her foresight? Would she confide in these elvhen a secret she hadn't told her dearest companions? When Fen'Harel didn't trust them with the truth about his son?

Evin lifted her eyes from the map to meet theirs—each elvhen in turn. "I know because I've seen it."

Chapter Text

Evin Lavellan's prediction of a massacre rested on the War Council table—a trio of black and white stones. Fen'Harel's advisers met in a long but narrow chamber deep within the temple. The room had no windows. Heavy cedar beams braced a cavernous vaulted ceiling. Veilfire lamps cast a cool greenish-golden glow against the tawny stone of the walls, where carved figures of elves and foliage-laden trees breathed and undulated beneath the trembling light.

"You brought me to Hellathen Viran because of the Anchor. Aren't you curious to know what it can do?" Evin asked.

She gazed at the gathered advisers as the Inquisitor, the acknowledged defender of all Thedas, and unblinking met their eyes. She was the shortest person in the room and younger than any of them by several thousand years, but they regarded her with riveted attention.

Beside her she sensed Fen'Harel's fascinated interest. The merest brush of his aura against hers, lighter than a whisper. He did not speak—he only observed, content to let his people reach their own conclusions. Their own consensus. If he was surprised at her announcement he hid it behind his usual neutral expression. He wouldn't intercede—he had never interfered with the Inquisitor.

Era'garas braced her mailed hands on the map table. The general spoke carefully as though to avoid offense, but clearly had no patience for games. "Do you claim you've seen the Forgotten One's forces? Explain yourself, ruan'asha."

Evin indicated the map spread across the table, the three game tokens marked in Brecilia. "The man known as Nihloras and several others await your people there. Their vallaslin is the crown. They bear a burden like a body toward the ruins."

"The Huntress," someone murmured.

The other elvhen exchanged alarmed glances. This was dire news... as she had anticipated. But she'd weighed the risk of revealing herself against the lives of Fen'Harel's warriors. She would not hold silent or whisper in Fen'Harel's ear. She would seize this opportunity.

"A terrible danger if true," one of the advisers said.

"As we feared," said another.

"I am curious how you know this, falon," Taren'nan interjected. The elvhen spoke diffidently. He hesitated to contradict Evin... in Fen'Harel's presence. "It's impossible to scry such a distance without an eluvian to mediate. Forgive me. I'm no expert on the Anchor, but I would be mildly astonished if it were that sort of artifact."

Evin allowed a cool smile to form on her lips. "As for that, falon, I am only a mortal elf and not very skilled with magic. I merely offer what I've seen."

Evin sensed rather than observed Fen'Harel's hidden amusement. Still he did not speak.

"It must be a prodigious power if it reveals what you say," Taren'nan said.

"If opposition awaits us at the Font it would be foolish to send an entire element," a general said.

"How can we be certain they have the Huntress?" Era'garas asked.

The others began to debate the matter, slipping into elvhen more often than not. Fen'Harel at least remembered to speak Tevene when he commented, but she suspected the others chose elvhen on purpose to exclude her. She caught a few hints they speculated about her ability. But they didn't ask her anything for several minutes.

Finally Taren'nan smiled. "It occurs to me we might ask you exactly what you've seen, falon." He spoke as though a group of them had not just decided exactly that.

And this was the tricky part. She was offering part of her talent, not all. She couldn't maneuver freely if they understood her abilities too well. If they learned the limits of her vision too quickly, like Fen'Harel had, they would take away her freedom. Lysander had been sufficiently clever to guess the secret on his own—and that was bad enough. As long as she continued to gaze ahead, as long as she walked forward conscious of the risk, she must trust in her ability to mislead them just enough to control the outcome. And count on Fen'Harel not to contradict her.

She wouldn't be a prophet for them. But she offered more of her power than she'd ever offered anyone.

Evin frowned at the symbol marked on the map, deep within the Brecilian Forest. "To my eyes the Font looks like a decrepit ruin. Three elvhen approach it. They wear armor like yours—" she nodded to Taren'nan—"but the scale is tinged with gray instead of blue. One I know as Nihloras, another has a notch carved in her right ear. Of course, I can't tell you their names. I see a dweomer in the Veil. A trap, I think. The runes remind me of fire, blackened bones."

Taren'nan smirked a little. "How many fingers am I holding up?" One hand was behind his back.

She laughed and said, "I hope you won't waste my time with trivia, falon. The Anchor is not a toy. If you have other tests... I'll consider them." As long as those tests didn't skim so close to her true ability, she thought. "I'm pleased I was able to meet you, my lords, my ladies. I think you may wish to discuss matters further without my presence. Please decide correctly."

She lowered her eyes but did not quite bow, did not quite excuse herself. Then she left the room.

In the corridor outside she found herself quite alone. No one was visible in either direction. She glanced through the branches and chose the right-hand corridor to return to her chamber. It was long past time to meet Voth there. But as she navigated she became aware of a narrowing possibility, as though someone ahead of her was choosing something to do with her future. Branches that had always existed in some vague form became immediate and certain.

She wasn't certain whether she'd ever been alone in the temple before. She suddenly wished her ladies were with her. She wished she hadn't left Fen'Harel behind.

A tingling met her hands, almost as though the Anchor was awake in them, and the farther she walked the closer she came to one of two possibilities. Matters changed too quickly—she couldn't stop to consider them in the Fade. She hurried forward, aware of her own heartbeat in her ears, her left hand tracing the wall.

She needed to be closer to places people frequented. Here in the highest part of the temple no one would find her body in time.

Time was running out. Time to greet them—

Now she heard a footstep behind her, something she wouldn't have noticed if she hadn't been listening for it, if her training in Lavellan hadn't primed her to know she was being followed. Two possibilities, two arrows, and if she revealed that she knew too quickly other suspicions might waken, ones she'd specifically avoided mentioning in Fen'Harel's Council.

She had to meet this while appearing unaware.

She hurried forward while trying not to hurry. Toward the atrium, the main part of the temple, but further from Fen'Harel.

Crossing an invisible line—past the opening to another corridor—she flashed a barrier around herself.

A masked shape before her shredded it with a contemptuous flick of its wrist. A slender elvhen body—male or female? She couldn't tell. A small assassin's crossbow with a trigger pull. A black quarrel—first arrow—

Evin reached for the Veil in desperation. Tattered it around herself, distorted the very air.

The quarrel missed.

The attacker discarded the crossbow. Pulled a small hand-bow from its back with a swift and practiced movement.

Evin dodged behind the corner. She ran.

Closer to the atrium—her foot tread on the hem of her skirt. She almost tripped, caught herself with a hand against the wall, kept running. She glanced back. The assassin followed.

Not an assassin. They didn't want to kill, she thought, this was a warning. A threat of death—except they were using deadly weapons—the possibility was there—

She tried to raise another barrier. Just as quickly shredded. She wasn't as good at magic and didn't have a staff.

Fen'Harel, she thought. A stupid thought, not useful, but necessary.

A sharp, bright sound, like fingers snapping by her ear. The second arrow loosed.

The Anchor clenched within her. Evin pulled time around herself, speeding her perception and slowing everything else. Better the arrow than the knife, she thought desperately. She matched herself to it, altered her position to ameliorate the wound as much as possible. When the shot reached her she let the shock carry her to the floor.

The assassin knelt over her. Wrenched the arrow from her shoulder. Agony lanced through her arm—Evin cried out. But she grabbed the elvhen's mask with her uninjured hand and tore it off.

She still couldn't make out a face.

Dark clouds covered her. When the attacker was gone she crawled forward in the haze, hoping to be discovered, forgetting in her disorientation whether this arrow was the poisoned one or just the one that stung.

Chapter Text

They brought him the arrow still slippery with his beloved's blood. Fen'Harel studied it, turning it over in his hands as it stained his fingers red. The sharp odor of iron—he could almost taste it—Evin's scent. He ignored the speckled bit of vellum woven through the fletching, the message from his enemy. She lives, she lives, he repeated silently, an attempt to smother the wrath that made his vision cloud, his muscles strain, his breath catch.

An attack on his mate in his own temple. An exposed underbelly that should have been impregnable. A shocking humiliation.

Fen'Harel lifted his eyes from the weapon to rest on Varen's proud, impassive face. "Why in the abyss did you allow her to wander unprotected."

It was only the two of them in his receiving room in the sanctum—the others were yet searching. Varen folded his hands inside the flowing sleeves of his robe and inclined his head. Not quite a bow. A gesture of regret. "Her ladies will be disciplined."

"Replace them," Fen'Harel said.

Varen glowered as though he had expected this response—and was displeased. "Is this the same logic that led you to lock away Tarasyl'an Te'las? That caused you to lose the Huntress? Do not act in haste, Fen'Harel. Others are less able to protect her. If the Inquisitor had not wandered off alone this would not have happened."

Fen'Harel bit his teeth and glared. "Evin had no reason to expect danger. There should have been no risk."

"The wise are always cautious," Varen replied.

Fen'Harel slammed his hand against the marble-topped table beside his chair. The force of his anger fractured it, a fine spiderweb of lines. "Am I a fool, Varen? Do you imagine if anything happens in this temple I am unaware of it? I know you recalled them."

Varen's flat golden eyes stared back at him without remorse. "You lack objectivity where that woman is concerned, honored one. I thought the Inquisitor safely at your side. I wished to consult with her escort, that is all. There is no permanent harm—content yourself with that."

Fen'Harel's jaw clenched again. No permanent harm—except the physician—who had already told him of the arrow's mild poison. Weak in its effects save one—

If ruan'asha carries a child, she may lose it.

His first reaction was shock—and then relief, for surely this was a danger that could not apply to them yet. Until he remembered he had been in Evin's company only a short while. How could he presume?

Please ensure she knows, he'd told the healer.

"I expect you to apologize to her," Fen'Harel said, "for your poor judgment."

An angry blush suffused Varen's sallow cheeks. His lips twisted with distaste. "Apologize for yourself first, Fen'Harel. That woman has borne a child. Where is her family? How is it your business to separate them?"

"The child remains hidden in Tarasyl'an Te'las. Safer than here, it seems," Fen'Harel said with bitter emphasis.

"Only your dread wisdom would divide a mother from her son. Surely the child's father—" And then something spasmed in the former sentinel's face. He glared down at his own twisting fingers. "Void take you, imprudent god!"

Only Varen would ever think to question him, Fen'Harel thought. The man's pride led him down paths others would not dare contemplate. Piety he might claim, but Varen seemed to think himself only a little lower than Mythal.

"Do not make assumptions," Fen'Harel said coldly.

"Forgive my words, I spoke hastily. Of course the child's father must be dead." Varen's eyes met his—and though Fen'Harel knew the other elvhen was far younger, he had the feeling Varen's experience exceeded his in this. Varen sighed. "Let me speak in the spirit of the friendship I hope we may someday develop. If you care for that woman at all do not bind yourself to her."

"You say nothing I have not already told myself."

"Then I echo the voice of your conscience. A casual encounter and no more. Spare yourself and her that pain."

"She has too few years to feel it, Varen," Fen'Harel replied.

Varen hesitated, then said—"If you believe her as young as she appears, you do not understand her at all."

And Fen'Harel shook his head gently and said, "None of us are as young as we appear."

Varen shifted slightly from one foot to the other, still wavering. "I hear strange stories from your Council. Is it true, this power the Inquisitor claims? Can she see what she says?"

"I do not doubt her abilities. If I were you, I would believe."

"But you are Fen'Harel. Does your conclusion change?"

Fen'Harel shook his head and smiled. He had not expected Evin to offer such a benefaction to his generals. He would not interfere with whatever she had planned—he believed they would quickly see through her ruse. As clever as his Inquisitor was, she could not fool a room full of ancients as canny as they for very long. Though... she had somehow managed to fool him for quite some time....

When Varen left him Fen'Harel nearly felt as though he had been the one reprimanded. He wondered with some bemusement whether the man had prodded Mythal in a similar fashion. Probably not. Varen embodied all the lessons he'd learned at his mistress' side. Not quite mothering, but... one who thought he understood Fen'Harel's behavior better than Fen'Harel himself.

He was surrounded by impudence, Fen'Harel thought... and smiled.

Fen'Harel prodded the arrow again, the honed silverite edge. Then he removed the bit of vellum and unfolded it. The words were elvhen, the same high tongue his brothers and sisters favored.

Do not seek me, brother. We should live and let live in this wicked new world. Do you appreciate my kindness? You should, for it will not recur.

Poison was a god's idea of kindness.

The door opened, and Fen'Harel looked up. It was Ilgarla.

"We found him," she said.

"Who?" he asked, puzzled, for there was no blood on her armor.

She grimaced. "You'll see."

The holding cell was far from the sanctum, as far away as it was possible to be without crossing the constructed lake and leaving by the gates. The attacker could no longer be permitted within the temple's precinct, but he would never have freedom again.

"Are you content to be home?" he asked Ilgarla as they walked together.

The sentinel eyed him curiously, her gray eyes cool, as though suspicious he was needling her. "My home was with Mythal. I regret leaving Arlasan behind. Otherwise I am content. I should be content."

He waited—seeing she wrestled with a question.

"I don't understand how you can care for a quick-blood," Ilgarla suddenly said.

"The Inquisitor, you mean," Fen'Harel said.

"Whatever that woman is now, when you met her you knew how few years she had. How you must lose her. We are elvhen. We endure. How could you permit—" and she stopped, aware she breached decorum.

Fen'Harel placed one foot in front of the other, following the path as though it drew him forward against his will. He gazed at the sun of the late afternoon, the birds that flitted between the foliage of the trees just as they did in winter. He stopped to gaze back at her. "Nothing endures, da'len. This is what my years among them taught me. Seize what you can while it is in reach. You only have this moment."

"I was always the youngest," Ilgarla said, "until now."

In truth, he said what he did to comfort her. He had never had such worries about Evin. Would she die before him? He loved too much to care. He knew there would be loss... eventually. There always was. He willed himself to close his eyes to it, just as he closed his eyes to his own death, which would someday come as well. Immortal didn't mean forever.

The discovery that Evin flourished within the temple—the unexpected delight of it—his gifted, beautiful vhenan. Of course she did. She had always surprised him.

And Anaris had attacked her here. If he wanted Fen'Harel's attention he had it now. Live and let live? After such an affront? Surely Anaris realized Fen'Harel could never let him be. Not now. Not ever.

Evin would never be safe—nor Revas—as long as Anaris breathed, as long as he snatched after stolen power.

Once the weakened prison was destroyed Fen'Harel could deal with the remaining gods. None had time to prepare like him. No more of this dueling behind shadows. And when all his enemies were dead, when the others agreed to his pact willingly or no, he would take his place among the elvhen with his immortal consort at his side.

No one would threaten them.

They would be at peace.

They would rebuild a little of what was lost—and safeguard the world from darker threats.

Evin could tend her garden among the quick-blooded elves if she liked. But she would remain with him. The days would stretch before them in unending beauty.

And then Fen'Harel laughed at himself—laughed at the fantasies that carried him away—and knew with bittersweet sorrow that it would never happen.

He knew his luck too well.

When they reached the holding cell Fen'Harel examined the magic that had allowed Anaris' creature to pass under their wards. He gave instructions to inspect every inch of the temple and being within it for traces of any similar spell.

The would-be assassin had no words for anyone. The servant of Anaris went to his knees before Fen'Harel, mouth closed, head unbowed. As imperious as his master.

The affinities would decide what to do with him, Fen'Harel thought. Perhaps they would return him a piece at a time to Anaris—starting with his mute tongue. The elvhen could be... enthusiastic.

Once these most pressing tasks were complete Fen'Harel went to find his vhenan.

He found a row of sentinels outside the terrace garden. Evin stood within, gazing out at the falls. She reached out her right hand without turning to look at him—knowing he had come.

He clasped her fingers. "Vhenan. How are you?"

"I've had worse injuries," she said. And he realized she was crying.

A stab of pain in his heart—he turned her to face him, beheld the tears drying on her cheeks, and how her eyes didn't want to meet his. She had not changed her dress. Shredded, bloody. Strips of bandages wrapped around her right shoulder.

"Are you in pain?" he asked. And thought of the poison....

"I'm already healed. They took care of it."

"Tell me how I can help," he said.

Her lower lip trembled. "Hold me. Please."

He did. He offered his arms, careful to avoid the wound. And he pressed his fingertips to the back of her head, the soft mass of her curls. She rested her face against his shoulder and he felt her shake with concealed sobs.

"Hush, vhenan. Please don't cry." And he wondered when he had last seen her this upset. Skyhold? Earlier? "Will you tell me what's wrong? Is there something else? Please tell me."

Her arms tightened around his waist. "Now I know why I love you," she said. Her voice was almost smothered—he had to strain to hear her.

"Why?" he asked.

"I must have known somehow." She lifted her head. And he saw the tears welling in her sunset eyes. "It's because you lie. All of you lie to me. Even Revas!" She began to cry again.

"Revas?" he repeated blankly. "Sit with me and explain. Please."

She followed him to a bench beside a stand of flowerless rose bushes, and she leaned against him when they sat.

He kissed her cheek. "Tell me about Revas," he said.

"He promised he didn't eat the last cookie. But there were crumbs all over his face! Scattered all over the rug." She drew a deep breath. "I blame you."

"Obviously," he said. "Emma ir abelas."

"If this is what I can expect here I want a weapon," she said, a little calmer.

He spoke a bit automatically. "Weapons are not permitted on sanctified ground."

She poked him in the ribs—which made him gasp. He was ticklish there. "A rule my attacker failed to heed," she said.

"You... have a point," he said, catching her hand to make her stop.

"When you were my guest at Skyhold no one attacked you," she said, looking up at him a bit critically, one ruler to another.

"Aside from Cullen, you mean?" Fen'Harel asked, and threaded his fingers through hers.

She pursed her lips. "You had that coming."

"Another point," he said. "Are you angry with me? Understand I am just as shocked. I wish you had stayed with the protection of your escort."

"Ah, yes. My captors. How could I spoil a dramatic exit?" she said wryly.

"Then... your foresight did not warn you?" he asked tentatively.

"I wasn't the original target. His orders must have changed. He was just as surprised as I was. But oh, so willing. He didn't hesitate at all."

"You refer to the assassin," Fen'Harel said.

She nodded. And there was a glint in her eyes that reminded him of the woman he'd met at Haven, the survivor of the blast. The same raw calculation. She was allowing him to see it, sharing what she felt instead of vanishing into the Fade to stew over her emotions without him. My precious heart.

"There will be an emergency meeting of the affinities," Fen'Harel said. "They wish to examine this assassin. Your presence is not required."

"Varen told me they wouldn't meet tomorrow," Evin said with that same sharp edge. "I have to be there. Is it soon?"

"As soon as now, if it pleases you," Fen'Harel said.


Evin wiped her face with her hands and smoothed back her hair. When he suggested a new gown she refused. Perhaps she decided with specific motivation, because when they walked onto the dais together a chorus of shocked gasps greeted them.

Fen'Harel gazed at the rows of faces, the eyes that widened at his blood-stained vhenan.

The prisoner stood before them bound in magic. The man's lips parted when he saw them—with the first words Fen'Harel ever heard him speak.

"Ma'len," said the prisoner.

Evin's mouth was a firm, grim line. "Father," she replied.

Chapter Text

Evin Lavellan remembered the day the strange, silent man came to claim her from the Alienage. She sat beside her mother's bed gripping a hand fragile as bird bones, afraid it would slip away. It was already harder for Evin to remember the person her mother had been, the bright smiling eyes and hair in perfect glossy curls, the languages that tripped from her tongue in a crisp, faultless accent. Already most of that was gone. She recalled how gray her mother's face looked when she whispered Evin must go, and her aunt's worried, watchful eyes as she leaned against the door frame.

The man who arrived for her was a stranger, a grim intruder dressed in unembellished dark leathers. She wished he'd go away. She didn't remember Revalas Lavellan or his last visit nearly five years before. Were they actually related? They had the same ashen hair, something similar in the jaw. She didn't know him nor did she want to. She didn't want to leave.

Her father took a seat by the fireplace while her aunt fixed supper. He gazed at her without speaking for a turn.

She didn't like being studied. "You should leave," she said. "I'm nearly twelve. I can look after Mother myself. I'm old enough to work."

"Is there any food in the house?" he asked. His voice had a trace of a lilt. "Aside from what your aunt brought over?"

The answer to the question was no. Both knew it. Evin flushed with shame. "She's not really my aunt—"

"I know," he said. "You do not look like you're twelve."

"You don't look like a savage," she said, lifting her chin so he wouldn't think her frightened.

He had a lean sort of face, and though she thought he must hardly ever smile, he did so now. Amused at her anger. "We conceal our vallaslin among the city elves. Do you know of vallaslin, ma'len?" he asked.

The word floated into her memory at the same time as the common definition. She stumbled over it. "Blood... something. Face tattoos."

He stretched back in his chair a bit, folded his arms across his chest. "Do you know your name?"

"Of course I know my name," she said impatiently. "Are you certain you're my father?"

"Blood calls to blood," he said. "What do you call yourself here?"

"Evin Telanas, like mother."

"Forget that name. You're Lavellan now. You always were, as I am," he said. "Never give any other among our kind."

Our kind? Did he mean elves? Dalish?

"Do I have to go with you?" she asked after a silent moment. "What do you want me for anyway?"

"Enough questions," he said. "You're afraid of losing what you know, and that makes you the same as any other flat-ear in this place. Fear is important. But I will teach you a stronger way. Do you have a knife of your own?"

That proved he was Dalish—he thought she was a flat-ear. And, no, she didn't have a knife.

He gave her one, a small sharp dagger with its handle wrapped in a thong of braided cord. He promised to teach her how to use it. The gift—the promise—they captured her interest. Perhaps he knew how she would latch on to them. She didn't have a choice.

They stayed long enough for supper, then left.

Before they departed he sorted through her chest of possessions and helped her fill a pack. He discarded most of her clothes and every book she owned. He said she wouldn't want to carry them once they were on the road. She only managed to save one volume, the smallest. A book of poems in her mother's hand, a reminder of a birthday.

It was the last time she saw her mother. Irina Telanas recovered a little after that, enough to forward letters to Evin through contacts. She was dead within two years. By then Evin was nearly a different person. Taller from a growth spurt, almost fourteen, well accustomed to Clan Lavellan's taciturn ways. She no longer thought of returning to the Alienage.

But that came later. At first the things her father taught her were like a game. He showed her how to move her feet silently even in the driest scrub and thickest undergrowth. To do it always and automatically even in heeled boots, so that if he ever heard her it brought his version of a reprimand. Doing things poorly meant silence and a disappointed, pondering shake of the head. It meant he might leave her behind with strangers, people she hardly knew, for days at a time. He said she was a quick learner. She tried to be, even if she had to follow him so cautiously he barely remained in sight.

The only thing that seemed to confuse him was when she grew again and her sleeves were too short to hide her wrists.

"I'm taller now," she explained, and he nodded with that same pondering frown, as though he hadn't expected it so soon.

"Next arrow," he prompted. They'd been practicing again.

She reached down automatically but the quiver at her waist was empty. She sighed and went to fetch the ones she'd shot. When she'd retrieved them all she came stomping back—deliberately loud. Revalas gazed at her impatiently.

"Why can't I practice with more than five arrows at a time?" she demanded.

"To encourage you not to shoot the ones that miss," he said.

Nonsensical, she muttered to herself. And took aim again.

But sometimes she fell into a rhythm. Nock, draw, aim, release. Nock, draw, aim, release. And she would come back to herself with her arms aching and exhausted as though she'd been practicing for hours—with no memory of stopping to retrieve her fallen arrows. The first time her father observed it he simply nodded as though pleased with how much improvement she had shown.

Her father didn't live like the Dalish she'd read about in tales, not while she was with him. There were no aravels, no halla. They mostly traveled by foot, sometimes in small caravans or boats. After a while there were other Lavellans, though they didn't seem to be relatives. Her father avoided humans. And he taught her to use weapons. Every day was drill. And the game. He never called it that, but that was how she thought of it.

The first game was how to move silently. There were many others.

The game of following someone.

The game of not being noticed in a crowd.

The game of passing messages undetected.

Finding certain herbs. How to mix them up and not inhale the smoke. How to care for weapons. Tending wounds. Sewing and mending. The trick of fletching arrows.

Sometimes days at a time passed without her speaking a word.

She remembered the first time they visited an actual Dalish clan, the first time she saw her father's vallaslin. The brightly-painted aravels. The soft, almost fuzzy baby halla. The statues of the Creators. The Storyteller who answered questions until her father called her over, scoffing at her interest.

Some were close to her age. They greeted her and called her lethallan, asking for her name. These tall children with their hunting bows and snares and halla leather clothes were more like her than the Alienage elves now. It frightened her to think how much she'd changed. She wasn't one of them. What was she?

Mainly she noticed how ignorant and poor they were—they spoke of Alienages as if they were prisons. Her father had brought them a wagon filled with sacks of grain. The Dalish had no farms. They moved constantly, pushed out by the humans. They weren't smart enough to settle down in villages like the city elves. Her father called them proud. Proud enough to starve, she thought. But they would rather accept Lavellan charity than change their way of life.

They didn't stay the night.

These were the things Evin remembered of her father....

Chapter Text

Evin Lavellan gripped the bloody puncture in her shoulder with her uninjured hand. When her balance faltered she braced herself against the corridor wall, figures carved in stone, the staring eyes of owls. Her head swam with the effects of a poison she didn't recognize. She groped forward as if she'd been struck blind, desperate to find someone before it was too late. There was no one here. A temple full of wise and ancient elvhen and she couldn't find any. Images in her blurred vision—the mask of her attacker, a face she never saw but somehow knew.

Varen's voice, rich as polished mahogany: Your undiluted blood. Now it leaked between her fingers.

Evin cast a glance behind her, but of course there was no one there. She forced herself to continue. There were people in the atrium. She knew it. Only a little further. She had to hurry so they could catch him—

An amphitheatre, a dais. Fen'Harel beside her.

When she saw the prisoner's face a shock went through her, a shudder like a tree struck by an axe.

She heard herself say Father.

Her fingers went to her mouth—she almost vomited, recalling the monstrous shades that had killed so many so horrifically at Skyhold. He served Anaris. Lavellan... served Anaris. Her knees buckled. Fen'Harel called for a chair. The elvhen were speaking—she barely noticed. She couldn't look away.

Revalas Lavellan hadn't aged a second. He looked no older than the day the humans took him to be executed, the day he'd ordered her to run.

Ten years. A blink of time for the elvhen.

"Where did you go?" she cried, words were torn from her. "Why did you leave? What was so important?"

His eyes brushed hers. Pitiless, remote. "Necessity, ma'len."

She sank down beside Fen'Harel, disregarding the hand he placed on her shoulder in concern, lifting her trembling fingers to her mouth, biting back the taste of acid.

She couldn't stand. She couldn't even speak. This branch was failure.

And then she gasped, stumbling out into the atrium. The healers had her now. Jarring her shoulder by mistake, a sickening throbbing pain while they checked for other wounds. The elvhen asked what had happened—demanded answers. She tried to explain. They had to wait for someone who could translate what she said into elven.

"You need to hurry. Please, hahren. You'll find him in the northeast bower garden. If not there then check the canal that feeds the pond of black and red koi. Please go!"

Then she sat because she needed to. The floor was a surprisingly comfortable place to be. They sent for sentinels to guard her. The healer was competent and quick—

The amphitheatre again. She stared at her father but his eyes were fixed on Fen'Harel. His ashen hair—his features—something about his smile resembled hers. No vallaslin. He'd advised Lavellan to always conceal the blood-writing when on a mission.

The Vir Banal'ras was the way of shadow and revenge. Targeted killings, assassinations. To preserve the elves? Or to keep the ways of Anaris alive among the people? Solas had never agreed with it—he called it murder and short-sighted, ultimately destructive. She'd thought him naïve. The Dread Wolf, a man thousands of years her senior, shook his head while she parroted the teachings of the Lord of Malice.

Evin couldn't speak at all.

"What is his name?" Fen'Harel asked in the silence.

Surahn had joined them on the dais. "Exian, known as Razaran, called Naraxos. Servant of Anaris," she said.

And her father inclined his head.

"What are you doing here, Father?" Evin asked in a voice that shook.

A calm and fearless smile. "I heard a shocking rumor that my minor daughter shares Fen'Harel's bed. Can a parent not visit his child? Of what am I accused?"

She hadn't seen her attacker's face. And now he mocked her.

Hadn't she learned his lessons well?

She'd executed Gaspard and Florianne. She'd encouraged Leliana's covert war. She'd conscripted the southern Wardens and used up every one. The actions of a tyrant.

Was she saving the elves? Or dooming them to the same destructive pattern that extinguished the Dales?

Necessity, she'd told herself.

Necessity, he said.

She'd always acted in accordance with the future she saw before her. But as Fen'Harel pointed out, she couldn't see beyond her own short life. If there existed a future where she was immortal it wasn't one that gave her insight.

The gathered elvhen proceeded with their interrogation of her father. Her silence made her useless. The affinities disregarded her.

Another failure.

Evin paced the garden, feeling the tingle of healing magic throughout the muscles of her left arm, from her mended shoulder to the palm of her hand. Her arm was a little stiff. Aside from that she felt restored. Even the confusion of the poison was gone. She gazed at the future and sighed, and waited for Fen'Harel.

Now I know why I love you, she told him. Or maybe she loved him in spite of it.

Too many thoughts for her mind to contain. Too many memories.

Words of elven she remembered but didn't.

Her father telling her she wasn't Dalish. She'd thought he meant she was a flat-ear, but no. He meant a different kind of mongrel.

The way she used a bow, the way he taught her. Different from every other elf she'd met. Not that different from the elvhen here at Hellathen Viran.

The puzzling nature of her pregnancy—she'd carried Revas for more than twice the normal time. That wasn't just Fen'Harel's doing. It was a trait she'd inherited.

A Dreamer. Such a rare gift. Not nearly as rare among elvhen. All their kind were mages. They saw nothing unusual in learning other weapons than the stave. They cultivated many skills during their long, long lives.

Her father hadn't taught her magic—because his wasn't Dalish. It would have given him away. She wouldn't have had enough skill to hide from templars, and he didn't want her shut up in a Circle. His way of protecting her? Or preserving a useful tool?

Then there was Clan Lavellan—a clan that wasn't a clan, a name that granted instant credit among Dalish and city elves alike. No one left to dispute him when he claimed to be a member. And as soon as he'd been among them too long, as soon as someone might have noticed he didn't age—he'd arranged to die. She hadn't been there for the hanging. What had really happened?

Was elvhen blood the reason she'd attracted Fen'Harel's eye? It must have been the Anchor at first, her position as Herald. No mere servant girl would satisfy his pride. Had something else sweetened the lure? Had he known?

She imagined herself asking—saw his firm denial. She wanted to believe it.

All the men she loved lied like Antivan rugs.

At least Antivan rugs were pretty. She wanted to lie down.

The amphitheatre, finally.

And she was faced with him again—her father—and the hastily gathered representatives of Fen'Harel's people, who watched more than just the newest intruder among them.

"My child," said Revalas Lavellan. Or Exian or Naraxas or whatever he called himself.

"Father," she replied in a voice as cold and distant as the stars.

Surahn stepped forward to announce his name. A famous monster, then.

"Did you see the face of your attacker?" the woman asked.

"No," Evin said.

A sentinel told the room they'd found him in the northeast bower covered in her blood. Another sentinel revealed the small hand bow seized from his person. Fen'Harel produced the arrow and the message. Surahn consulted the memories of the Fade, and Evin watched herself stumble away from a place of violence. When prompted Revalas refused to speak.

The affinities conferred. When Surahn asked for a division a plurality found him guilty—there were others who demurred—but that was not enough to convict for such a serious crime.

"Now that you have seen the evidence, what is your opinion, Inquisitor? Your wishes also matter," Fen'Harel said.

As she spoke Evin was conscious of many eyes. "He broke your sacred law," she said. "He bore arms within the sanctum. He did not present himself to the Highest One nor undergo the rituals."

Revalas regarded her with a silent frown.

"Execute him," she said.

Chapter Text

"Execute him," Evin Lavellan said. She looked away from her father to address the assembled elvhen. "That is your law, correct?"

Revalas Lavellan stood bound in magic on the wide, tiled floor below herself and Fen'Harel. His armor was similar to a sentinel's, but Evin was convinced her father didn't serve his god in such a straightforward way. A mass of elvhen had gathered across the amphitheatre—the affinities, the elders of Hellathen Viran—but they were mostly in shadow. Evin focused her attention on her father. His hands were still red with her blood.

Surahn, who stood beside them on the dais, folded her arms across her chest. Gray and black rings glinted on her fingers, wide bangles slid across her wrist. In her priestly robes she was tall and elegant, something carved by ancient hands. "The penalty may seem severe to you, but that is our custom," she said to Evin.

"Are you certain this is what you want?" Fen'Harel murmured, his voice pitched for her ears alone.

"I'm a guest you've treated with kindness," she said to those assembled. "I would not ask dispensation from your laws, not unless something threatened more than just myself."

Revalas—or was it Razaran? He had more names than lies—turned away from them to face the elders, emboldened by the fact Fen'Harel's people had not already put him to death. "By the same laws this child should not be allowed to speak," he said sharply. "If you cannot decide to kill me yourself why accept her verdict? Would you obey the whims of a girl not yet past the age of fledging?"

One of the affinities, a hairless elf with deep-set eyes outlined in kohl, stepped forward. "An irregularity, Surahn. The testimony of a minor..."

"How do you know my daughter's true opinion? She stands there like a morsel for the Dread Wolf to devour," her father said, gesturing in a show of anger.

What a display, she thought.

Perhaps Revalas laid some sort of groundwork for another argument. Her father was mistaken if he thought to claim the right of a parent to remove her. She'd called herself a guest but Fen'Harel's people considered her a prisoner here. They had two Lavellans now.

Surahn regarded Evin with doubt. "It may seem strange to you, but for an elvhen who has not reached a hundred years—. There are so few children among us—"

"Inquisitor!" A voice shouted. A narrow-shouldered, almost gaunt figure fought its way through the crowd. "Inquisitor!"

"Voth?" Evin asked.

The bony-limbed mage—Sutherland's friend, she reminded herself, an elvhen of long years and service to Sylaise, apparently—had discarded his Inquisition armor. He now wore what appeared an eclectic outfit to Evin's eyes. It reminded her of the other elvhen, who dressed in a motley range of styles. A black brocade vest with shiny buttons, an eye-searing orange frock coat with a gathered waist—she'd never seen such clothes.

Voth hurried forward, pushing past the row of sentinels, even daring to approach Evin and Fen'Harel on the raised dais.

"Please allow me to speak for you, ruan'... asha," he said, a little breathless.

"Voth, I was wondering where you were. I need you to translate for me," Evin said.

"Translate?" he asked blankly. "But your elven is—. That is, I would be honored. I believe I can assist. With your permission, Inquisitor?"

She nodded at him.

Voth took a deep breath. Then he threw his shoulders back as though to prepare for a speech, and addressed the elvhen with a thin, dramatic hand. "I have known the Inquisitor for several years. I have the honor of serving her still. By the laws of her people the Inquisitor is an adult. Even if we did not accept the judgment of the quick-blooded, by the elder law of Elvhenan we must respect her majority. Ruan'asha has a child of her own."

Revalas met her eyes. His face was brittle, a mask of unfired clay, but he revealed no hint of regret for the arrow that had pierced her shoulder. He never regretted anything, Evin thought. Another way we're alike.

"So you see," Voth continued in a weaker voice. "You cannot disregard the Inquisitor's words on the grounds of youth."

"Thank you, Voth," Surahn said. "If the affinities—"

"In such a clear case is it necessary to press a vote?" Fen'Harel asked. He must fear they would lose. At a stroke the elvhen could forbid her from participating in their politics. Until she grew a little older—a trifling number of years for them—only an age or two.

There had been so little time since she'd arrived. Had she done enough? Expressed enough opinions they'd find popular or wise? Behaved with propriety befitting a young elvhen?

As she gazed out at the affinities she knew she had them. On this, she had them.

Ruan'asha has a child. That would sway this nearly childless race as nothing else had. Revas meant more to them than Fen'Harel's opinion. They had even tried to bribe her with her son.

They would pay for that later, she thought.

"There were numerous precedents in my temple. After the quick-blooded arrived," Voth said. His voice trailed off.

"Thank you, Voth," Evin said.

Surahn put it to the affinities.

Once again the elvhen divided. And while Evin ignored her aching shoulder and her father standing below her, while her hands balled up into fists and her nails pressed into her palms, she watched them confer and decide.

They accepted her evidence. They sentenced her father to death.

"Allow me to speak," Revalas exclaimed.

"The time for you to beg for clemency is past," Surahn said.

"Information for my life," he said.

"Are not you familiar with the saying, Naraxos?" the woman asked. "When the vessel is poisoned so is the wine."

Evin didn't care. Surahn was right—her father was a liar and almost certainly an evil man. And she didn't need him alive. She could tell Fen'Harel his words herself.

But the Dread Wolf refused to carry out the sentence.

And no other executioner stepped forward.

After some discussion the sentinels led Revalas away to a place of confinement. The other elvhen departed.

When they were gone Surahn shook her head with undisguised loathing. "Better to behead the snake than invite it in. That was ill done, Dread Wolf. You should have killed him."

Fen'Harel stole Evin's hand. He squeezed her fingers, a gesture of companionship and comfort. As he did so she noticed the weight of tension she was under. She leaned against him wearily, grateful for his presence.

"I would not press anyone to do what they thought was wrong," Fen'Harel said. "Not even myself."

Fen'Harel watched the sentinels haul Razaran away while Evin thanked Voth again for his assistance. He guided his vhenan to his sanctum. When they were alone at last they walked together to the garden she'd awakened. There they could enjoy the flowers together, the soft fragrance and the gentle drone of bees. But Evin was like one of the flitting insects—she would not keep still.

Evin caught his arm. "Do you want to know what Revalas would have told you?" she asked.

He roused from his reverie to regard her sharply. "Do we know if it was true or false?"

Her face lowered with frustration. "No."

"Then what does it matter?" he murmured, and drew her closer. The man was still alive. If he had more secrets to sell he would communicate them privately—without involving his daughter, Fen'Harel hoped.

"Then why did you do it?" Evin demanded. "Did you spare his life for me?"

"You cannot want your own father dead, my heart. You made the best of a difficult position. Are you angry?"

"I—. I'm not sure what to think. I didn't say anything I didn't mean. He causes trouble." But she sounded irritated, not murderous.

He laughed. "Vhenan. How can I ask for his blessing if I kill him? He would curse me from the Beyond."

Despite the stress and exhaustion of the last few hours Evin smiled. "You want his blessing, giddy Wolf? He serves Anaris."

"Stranger things have happened."

They walked hand-in-hand among the flowers, following the paths as though they'd done so a thousand times before. He recalled the fear of losing her and had to swallow back his apprehension. He wanted her to stay with him, in this place, for as close to forever as fate granted them.

He wished she wanted that too.

As he thought about it he began to understand. He drew to a stop, regarding a cluster of lilies that bloomed in rose and violet like her eyes. "You knew I would not kill him," he said. "You foresaw how you would rise in esteem for your devotion to their laws. How cleverly you play this little game."

She sighed. "Now I know why you didn't want to bring Revas here. I know it but I still feel disappointed. I won't ask you about him again."

Revas was one of the conditions—he would only bring their child here if she agreed to stay voluntarily. He had not disagreed with the affinities at the time. Now he saw how clumsy they had been, how cruel. He never should have said it.

"This place is safer than any other in this world," he said. And still not safe enough.

If there were some way—. If he could persuade them or find an excuse. No, Evin must have something planned. He should not interfere. But if there were a way—

He wanted Revas to walk these halls.

"Where did this day go wrong?" Evin asked. Her arm stole across his waist.

"I think it started when you left my bed without me," he said with a teasing frown.

"You're probably right," she said.

"Vhenan, you do more in a day than most elvhen in a decade. I'm... quite jealous of your time. I hoped to spend most of this day with you." And he reached for her, wrapped both his arms around her, drew her closer until he could feel the warmth of her skin against his. How he loved the way she leaned in to him, how her lips parted when she gazed up at him. "Are you certain you're healed? Perhaps I should inspect the wound."

"Will that require removing my dress?"

"Almost certainly."

"Do I get to inspect you in turn?"

Then he came to his senses with a start. "The banquet is supposed to be tonight," he said regretfully. "It would be a shame to be late. All will have heard the stories of your bravery. They will be eager to see you."

"We'll be quick," she promised—with a certain determined gleam in her eyes.

"I don't want quick," he returned. Not yet. He barely stopped himself from groaning at the idea of so little time with her in his bed. He hardly knew her body. He wanted to take his time.

She walked her fingers up the line of his tunic, bisecting the Fen'edal. Her sunset eyes gazed up at him, such a purity of color framed by raven-black lashes that his breath caught. "Then... you can have tomorrow. The entire day. If you want it," she said.

No. He wanted everything. The day she offered was barely enough. He caught one of her hands and lifted her fingers to his lips.

"Not tomorrow. Now," he said.

As she murmured laughter he lowered his lips to the perfect shell of her ear, the sweep of her neck.

They could postpone the damned banquet another night. He wanted his vhenan.

He took her to his bed, the one dyed with her colors. He split her gown in his impatience and unwound the bandage from her shoulder. Underneath it her soft white skin was flawless, unblemished, so perfectly she had healed beneath the weakened Veil. They held each other for a while, though his heart pounded with such force she must surely hear it—it was her heart, as she was his. Her skin against his, her heat, her pulse, the memory of desire he'd felt and did again. She kissed him and he sensed her need, the hunger for his touch and his tongue. A buzzing in his ears—almost dizzy—only she could do this to him, no other but her. Her body pressed against his as though he needed more encouragement, and then her hot fingers on his shaft—his teeth snapped shut and he almost burst, too soon, he wasn't inside her.

She laid herself before him with a soft sigh. And he sensed she didn't want him above her, dominating—he pushed her knees almost to her chest, and kneeling before her sank into her as slowly as he could, feeling her stretch around his cock while she made an exquisite gasp. Her eyes half-lidded, lost in pleasure, cheeks flushed and prettily pink, the nipples the same darker rose as her lips. Her fingers curled against his ass. He wanted to fill her, deeper, in this position they were so well-matched he could lose himself completely and not hurt her.

He heard his own voice crying out, his shivering breath, her wordless cries growing louder. And yet it wasn't enough until he pushed through the Veil, the lightest touch, and met her presence there.

And then he found her gazing at him with sparkling eyes. Her pale feet pressed into his chest. He caught one of her ankles—surprised at the sudden touch she bucked against him—and he ground into her until she gasped.

"Next time you'll scream my name, vhenan." He wanted to hear that. More than anything. Now.

"Is that... a promise?" she gasped. And she whispered to entice him: "Fen'Harel."

Their bodies were so liquid and melted together and wet, and sweat ran from his face, he could not remember the last time he'd been so happy, so contented in a moment. But this was going to be so much fun—for them both.

He slid her knees back so he could adjust the angle of his body. At the first wildfire touch of his magic her spirit ignited. Her body clenched like a single straining muscle. And he bent delicately to his task.

"Fen'Harel!" that sweet voice cried.

He caressed her damp cheek. And when her hands scrabbled to find his he laced their fingers together.

Ah, vhenan. He had so much more to show her.

Chapter Text

Trust the Dread Wolf to claim the only female Dreamer born in the last six hundred years. Or however long—time was a hazy concept for Taren'nan—as was monogamy. He'd slept so long it was a wonder he'd awakened. Every one of his attendants had died, which was quite rude in some ways and depressing in all the others. One moment you were dreaming, surrounded (so far as you knew) in uthenera by dear companions and servants while you waited for your injuries to heal. The next you were pitched into a barbaric, Blight-corrupted wasteland where the locals viewed caves as a suspicious architectural novelty and everyone worth knowing had perished several thousand years before.

Taren'nan was young enough to have difficulty remembering a time before the Veil. Even for him modern Thedas sucked worse than a temple prostitute during gala year. The present was a drag—magic was hard—he hadn't expected their entire civilization to collapse. His last memories were equally joyless: the heartache of a conflict they had lost, a shining city with crystal bridges that ran with blood, ornamental pools where corpses swam instead of swans. But that was just the furniture of war. The foundation—the cities, the temples, the palaces—he walked their wonders every time he closed his eyes. But they were gone. Arlathan, matchless and eternal, was no more. All was washed away, the blood and the bones, a whisper of memory swallowed into vine-choked ruin. The Fade itself had begun to forget. It wasn't supposed to be this way.

He didn't want to be the last of a dying race.

If Fen'Harel was going to rebuild the People, Taren'nan was on board a thousand percent. But it was almost enough to make him understand the elders' provoking melancholy. If civilization hadn't ended and everything he might be considered an elder himself. A disquieting thought. It felt wrong for a people to have elders but no children. He had only met one of the others since he'd woken—a new elf, intriguing—

Taren'nan was accustomed to searching for nuance in the People's speech—the Veil dulled even their familiar tongue—but there was something alluring about a woman who spoke fluent Tevene with a strange accent and halting elvhen with none at all. There was a freshness, a brightness to the Inquisitor. A Dreamer lass with memories he didn't share, a window to a world that was otherwise too alien to contemplate. He hadn't thought she was that young—she behaved with too much gravity—her age wasn't off-putting, not to him.

And so, in his newly-woken ignorance, Taren'nan had made an uncharacteristic misstep. The violet-eyed beauty he'd flirted with was bound to Fen'Harel. A political gesture if he'd ever seen one, but Taren'nan had no desire to offend a man who'd been his father's closest ally. A god, to be terribly old-fashioned.

He glanced down and found his fingers tracing the petals of a flower pinned to his cloak, a star lily breathing violet and rose like the southern aurora. Evin'alath had placed it in his hand the day before. It showed no signs of fading.

Ilgarla who walked beside him noted the gesture and rolled her eyes with open disdain. They had nearly reached the eluvian—Taren'nan hurried after her.

"What is it?" he demanded.

"You will lose your reputation for cunning," she warned.

"A friend can accept a flower from a friend," he said defensively. "In the language of flowers, the lily means courage. Cunning is the primrose. Something like that, anyway." He grinned.

Ilgarla yanked up her hood over her short hair. As testy as ever. "A shame she did not give you the flower for good sense, young General. Request that one next time."

"We cannot all pine for you, young Sentinel," he returned.

Ilgarla looked at him sharply—which gave him a sudden delightful suspicion. But as her knives were all in easy reach he didn't want to tease her too much. He wished Arlasan were here to give the full story—in as many words as he could drag out of her taciturn brother.

"This will be a good lesson for you," Ilgarla said.

"Oh? What do I need to learn, in your opinion?" he asked.

"How to want something you cannot have."

Ilgarla had an exaggerated opinion of his abilities if she thought no man or woman ever spurned his advances. Though it happened infrequently enough before he'd slept—mostly, he thought, because he chose his targets well. Perhaps this conversation was a revelation of interest? He eyed her speculatively.

"Why, Ilgarla," he said wonderingly. "Are you jealous?"

Her face went wooden. Carved, flat eyes. Lips a narrow line. "Of you? Do not be ridiculous."

"My dear sentinel, I had no idea." He slowed just slightly to appreciate the view from another angle. The way she moved was liquid—a graceful, muscled stride.

Not that Abelas' daughter was much better than the Dread Wolf's chosen. In terms of danger the difference was slight. Both women were formidable. But that made things fun, didn't it? If he couldn't have his first choice—

"Are you staring at my ass?" Ilgarla demanded.

"Pondering," he murmured. After all, he was new-wakened—effervescent blood whisked through his veins. Why shouldn't he find a new partner? No one deserved to sleep alone, not even Ilgarla.

"I wouldn't dream of leering without an invitation," he said. "Shall I stop?"

"This is not the proper time," she declared. But she hadn't refused outright, nor had her hands twitched for her knives. The hesitation in her face intrigued him.

Perhaps their journey to the Font would provide some entertainment after all.

When they reached the eluvian Era'garas was already there, accompanied by an elvhen he knew only by reputation, a man called Felassan, though he went by other names. Taren'nan was satisfied with the group. Four, few in number, but all were talented with stealth. If Evin'alath was correct they could expect a fight once they reached their destination.

He reached behind him to unsling his staff. There were foci on his fingers in ten assorted rings, with light chains that connected them to bands on his wrists. He hoped Anaris' other servants were less canny than the assassin who'd attacked Evin. Newly-wakened elders, too confused by the Veil to channel any magic. Let them choke on it, he thought.

Taren'nan made a perfunctory reverence. "We are ready," he said.

"I knew your father. He was a good man," Felassan said.

Taren'nan acknowledged the words with a nod. He was nothing like his father, but Felassan would discover that soon enough.

"We head to the Brecilian Font," Era'garas told them. "Anaris controls it now. Remember—our task is reconnaissance. At least one of us must return to share what we learn of the enemy's works."

"What if we are discovered?" Ilgarla asked.

"If that happens, destroy what you can and disrupt the rest. Otherwise leave no trace."

"May the Wolf guide our steps," Felassan said, smirking.

May he indeed, Taren'nan told himself, thinking of Evin'alath's warning: A massacre awaits.

The four elvhen crossed through the eluvian as a group.

Chapter Text

When they stepped through the eluvian the elvhen fell into a defensive formation as familiar to Taren'nan as sticky fingers and spindleberry jam—for he'd learned it as a child dandled on his father's knee. Ilgarla scouted ahead, Era'garas guarded the mages, Taren'nan and Felassan followed side by side. As they forged through the trackless Brecilian woods Taren'nan drew stealth over them with as much skill as his conceit and ten foci could command. Nothing in the forest would note their passing if he had anything to say about it. Not the shadows, not the moonlight, not the little bats or marmosets or whatever ungodly fauna shared these woods with Anaris' scoundrels.

Felassan observed his workings for a moment before adding his own. In his bare feet and woodsman's garb the other mage moved with fluid grace. Felassan's magic sought out traps as eagerly as a newly bonded bride seeks kisses.

Taren'nan wondered if Felassan felt as stifled by the Veil as he did. In Hellathen Viran he'd forgotten how oppressive it was. A tactical boon when they'd been outnumbered, but sheer drudgery to a Dreamer. Just now the barrier felt... stirred up. The vibration nudged against his senses like it wanted to pet him, a velvety disturbance that rippled and swayed. Something had tried to roll up the Veil—and the Veil had snapped back. The power required for such a thing would kill a lesser mage. Blood magic? Or something worse. A god.

Felassan's eyes met his. A moment of grim understanding passed between them. So Fen'Harel's operative had noticed it too.

After a few minutes they passed the range of the eluvian. Era'garas motioned for a halt. Taren'nan clenched his fingers, tightening the diameter of the stealth spell around them. There was no sense wasting mana. Despite the shield of protective magic he felt keyed up, breathless with excitement and the need to avoid discovery. Fieldwork always gave him a kind of effortless focus, a bit like making love, but not quite as fun....

Era'garas crouched beside a flat place in the damp and mossy ground and spread out a map. Her magic raised the veilfire runes into a glowing impression of hills, ravines, and ridges. Here in the forest, the map and the lay of the land were one and the same—no chance of dangerous inaccuracies. The others gathered around her. It was good practice to pause for a few minutes—checking to see if anything had detected their entrance through the mirror.

"I trust we've all visited the Font before," the general said. Her eyes went to each of them in turn.

The elvhen exchanged glances. Finally Ilgarla admitted—in as few words as possible—that she had never been to Brecilia. As nice as it was not to be the youngest elvhen in the group Taren'nan felt a twinge of sympathy.

"For me it's been, hmm, four thousand years? There may have been some changes in that time." Taren'nan grinned.

"One or two, perhaps. No need to be extravagant, da'len," Felassan said.

Era'garas tapped on the ritual marker, their destination to the east. "Here lies the Font. If Anaris' people have been operating here it shouldn't be difficult to find signs of activity. It is possible his lieutenant Nihloras is in the area."

Felassan whistled softly. "Now I understand all the secrecy," he said.

Taren'nan remembered Evin'alath's warning and the certainty in her voice. His armor was designed for stealth, not derring-do against a monster like Anaris' favorite sentinel. They were few in number, only four, the better to stay hidden. If they were discovered their best option was to run.

"Do we have only the Inquisitor's word for that?" Ilgarla sounded cross.

"You doubt the Anchor?" the general asked, lifting her brows.

"I will believe in this sight of hers when there is proof," Ilgarla said.

Bad blood? Taren'nan wondered. Or was it just Ilgarla's naturally charming personality?

"As long as it's not proved with our bodies," Felassan said. "I don't really want to lay eyes on that crowned clown myself."

"Maybe he'll leave us a signed note," Taren'nan said.

"A letter of apology for missing our visit?" Felassan suggested. "Dear Wolf Friends, so sad I couldn't make it, please enjoy this shadow trap—Your Pal, Nihloras."

"Foolish," Ilgarla said.

"You faced him at Skyhold, young one," Felassan suddenly said. "If he's here, what should we expect?"

"You fought Nihloras?" Taren'nan asked. He made sure to sound impressed—which was easy, because he was.

Ilgarla didn't react the way he hoped. He never seemed to put a foot right where she was concerned. "I did not fight him," she said slowly. "Arlasan and I were stationed to protect the Anchor. He transformed himself. He fought with shades. Voth saw more than I did."

"Sylaise's man?" Felassan was astonished.

Ilgarla's face became disgruntled. "He no longer serves that goddess. Nihloras lost an eye in the fight. If he is here he is injured. But he still managed to escape with Andruil's body..."

"This is our chance to rectify that mistake," Era'garas said. "We will nail him down here and tonight. If that foul bastard is here we will finally know where to strike. Felassan, do you have any information to share?"

The other mage shrugged, opening his hands as though to reveal there was nothing in them. "I spotted a few servants wearing crown vallaslin. If Nihloras was among them he hid extremely well." Felassan tapped a clear place on the map. "Here—a human village. Abandoned recently. There's a Dalish camp nearby. We should make sure to avoid it."

"Tribals? Would they do us harm?" Era'garas asked.

Felassan's grimace twisted the markings on his face. "The Dalish aren't fond of outsiders. A bit like us that way. More to the point, the Wolf commands we leave the Dalish alone. No interference, says Fen'Harel. Unless you feel like arguing with him."

Not me, Taren'nan thought. He'd drawn enough attention to himself already. He considered the map. "I suggest we stay close to the line of this ridge. It will hide us from observation and avoid the village. If we keep the river at our right hand we won't lose our way. We'll follow it all the way to the Font."

Era'garas sketched out a circle. "This is the range of our seeing-glass. There is no extraction beyond this line. If we're attacked, return. Do not wait to be captured. There will be no rescues."

The four elvhen studied the map, committing its topography to memory. Era'garas' warning was stern but necessary. This was a war of shadows—Taren'nan's style of fighting—but under normal protocol he'd stop to aid an injured companion. Era'garas had just informed them that wasn't in the cards. Raids by eluvian, knives in the dark. It wasn't his father's way of war, but there weren't enough elvhen left for that.

With their plan agreed the four elvhen resumed their stealthy progress through the wood. They waited a few minutes at the ridge to give Ilgarla time to scout ahead. Era'garas motioned them forward.

Taren'nan flexed his fingers to feel the flow of magic sparkling through his foci. He scooted the circle of stealth along with them. Brushing away the tracks of their wrapped feet in the moist earth, mending bent leaves that would otherwise betray their passing, erasing even the ghostly impression of their progress in the Veil.

"Stop," Felassan hissed. Taren'nan halted.

Ilgarla had found something. Era'garas lifted a hand in a sharp gesture and the mages gathered cautiously around her.

A rune circle was drawn in the moss and foliage. It glowed slightly with the otherworldly green of elvhen magic. Felassan extracted his stave from under his cloak, waited a moment for it to grow to normal size, and tapped the trap to dispel it.

Taren'nan held his breath a moment. If other traps were linked to this one Felassan's action might set them off. But there was only silence, the sound of their breathing, and the rustle of leaves.

"Nice," Taren'nan muttered.

Felassan winked.

They proceeded to the end of the ridge and up an escarpment until they heard the river to their right. As they walked Taren'nan considered the rune traps—Ilgarla soon found more—and the type of magic they concealed. Fire, just as the Inquisitor had said.

Ilgarla wanted proof? That was proof enough for him.

Evin'alath had been right about the traps which meant she was probably right about the rest. Nihloras was here. Furthermore he admired her magecraft. To detect and read those sigils accurately couldn't have been easy, whichever way she'd done it. He wouldn't have expected such ability in a mage so young. Perhaps the relationship was more than a political gesture. Though he was a blighted idiot for wondering.

Why don't we think about Ilgarla instead?, he asked himself.

But that looked equally hopeless. A little flirtation could be fun, but the more time he spent in Ilgarla's presence the more he remembered her ill temper and surly disposition. She liked the Inquisitor about as much as poison ivy. To him that spoke of poor judgment. Some men enjoyed that sort of fierceness, pitching their tents beside a fire trap out of eagerness to see it explode. Maybe for them it was exciting. He preferred ladies who—who—gave gentlemen flowers. Ilgarla was more fun when he could tease her as he liked, without worrying about the consequences. Let some other elf coax her into bed.

His ear caught the snap of a branch. He halted beside Felassan, reshaping their disguise while Era'garas crept ahead. There came the rustling sound of leaf-laden branches—a scuffle of some kind—and then the coppery scent of blood.

Finally Era'garas beckoned them forward. A clearing, a fire pit, a fallen rucksack. Ilgarla was wiping her daggers with a scrap of cloth. There was a fresh corpse laid out before her—and worse.

Two bodies strung up from trees. Elvhen? No, they were too short. Adolescents to his eyes. These must be the Dalish. They wore green and tan leathers, dyed black with blood in the dim light. They had been tormented. The male had gaping holes instead of eyes. The other—

"This one's still alive," he said sharply.

"A servant of Anaris," Felassan told the others, prodding the fallen elvhen with his toe. "Well done, da'len."

Felassan knelt to search the enemy's body. Let him—Taren'nan cared more about the Dalish who was wounded, this little sister bound to the tree. His magic swept over her, checking for broken bones. Then he cut her down.

A sound came from the woman's throat. Her mouth worked, swallowed. He lowered his ear to hear her better.

"Just kill me, ancient one," she whispered.

"I would prefer not to," he said, making an awkward smile. He was pretty sure he'd understood her words—his common was atrocious—but there was no mistaking the hatred in her eyes.

"What happened here?" Era'garas asked.

"A play session," Felassan said. His face was emotionless.

Taren'nan's stomach did a loop. What were they to do with the wounded elf? She'd probably live if she received the proper care, but he wasn't much of a healer. Worse, he couldn't expend his magic on her. He might need it twice over when they reached the Font. Now, if Nihloras was in the area, what were his men doing with the Dalish?

Felassan had finished his search of their enemy. He crouched beside Taren'nan to examine the wounded elf. When the woman caught sight of his vallaslin her expression relaxed.

"Are you with the Inquisition?" she whispered.

"Inquisition?" Taren'nan repeated the syllables blankly.

"We are," Felassan said smoothly. He dropped into a strange, corrupted patois of elven. "Why do you ask, lethallin? What happened here?"

"Please, you must warn my clan. Tell them to flee this place—" The woman fought to continue but no words came. Finally, her head slumped.

"Dead?" Ilgarla asked.

"Napping," Felassan replied.

"Why did you tell her we serve the Inquisitor?" Taren'nan asked.

"It's not totally a lie," Felassan said. "Our lord is probably ploughing her field as we speak—"

"We should go," Ilgarla said, stone-faced.

"What should we do with the survivor?" Taren'nan asked. "We can't leave her here."

Felassan gave him a sharp glance. "We can't take her with us. What part of 'do not interfere with the Dalish' didn't you understand?"

All sorts of instincts Taren'nan hadn't realized he possessed were whispering in his ear. The Dalish woman couldn't be older than... a quarter century? She was so young. Hardly more than a child. How could they leave her? Furthermore his reading of the situation suggested an opportunity.

"Elvhen have already interfered," Taren'nan said. "We should find out why. We could return her to her clan."

"Taren'nan. I regret the necessity but we must press on. Her people will find her," Era'garas said.

Taren'nan recalled the map in his mind's eye. "The human village can't be more than fifteen minutes' walk from here. The Dalish camp is closer still. We have evidence now that Anaris' people are meddling with the Dalish. We need more information." He shook his head regretfully but he didn't see another option. "I won't ask any of you to join me. You remember our orders—don't wait for me."

Ilgarla slid her knives into their sheathes with two sharp movements. "Our task is to investigate the Font. You will put the enemy on alert when you are discovered."

Taren'nan sighed down at the unconscious Dalish woman. "If Anaris' agents return they'll torment her to death like her companion. I'm not willing to cut her throat myself. Are you? Would you abandon her to that, Ilgarla?"

"She is a quickling, you fool. Would you throw your life away on a stupid heroic gesture? They are not our people!" Ilgarla said.

The sudden frustration made his jaw clench. "But they are people!"

He felt disappointed—so disappointed in her—but more and more certain. Surely he wasn't the only one who saw the sense in this! Still, if Era'garas countermanded him he'd ultimately obey. This wasn't an affinity grouping, elvhen play-time. They were in the field. As an officer he was bound to the chain of command, or at least to avoid acting against it. Era'garas knew no plan survived contact with the enemy—it was a cliché for a reason. Greatness in leadership meant keeping one's mind awake for opportunity.

Unless Ilgarla was right and he was about to lose his reputation for cunning.

"Ilgarla is right. It's a terrible idea," Felassan said. "I should go with you."

Taren'nan let his shoulders slump in relief. "Sweet Mythal. Thank you."

"The woman called you 'ancient one'," the operative continued. "Clearly our rustic cousins know something of what's going on. It's best we find out what. You shouldn't go alone, falon. The Dalish will probably attack you on sight. Besides, you don't even speak their language."

"Are you both determined on this?" Era'garas asked.

"Looks that way," Felassan said.

The general heaved a sigh. "You have one hour. Ilgarla and I will scout up to the Font and learn what we can. If you do not meet us by then we will return to the temple without you. Do not expect us to wait."

That didn't give them much time—but it was a great deal more than Taren'nan had expected. "I thank you," he said heavily.

"Taren'nan, do not—. Do not get yourself killed," Ilgarla said.

"Never intentionally," he replied.

Modern elves didn't weigh very much, an interesting fact Taren'nan discovered when Felassan helped him lift the injured Dalish into a crude stretcher, a sort of cloak-hammock they carried between them. The woman woke briefly in the process, long enough for Felassan to confirm the location of her people's camp. They set off through the woods, leaving the general and sentinel behind.

Felassan slipped noiselessly between the trees in his bare feet. He was shorter than Taren'nan, with a slim build, but seemed to have no trouble with his share of the burden. The two elvhen paused occasionally to stop and listen, watching for patterns of movement, the passage of nocturnal birds and marmots or ground squirrels and whatever else lived in this place. Taren'nan had plenty of time to wonder if he was going to live to regret his decision. They passed over a swift-running rivulet, splashing through the water, and Felassan beckoned him closer.

"The camp is ahead," the man whispered. "Did you sense that? We just crossed their quaint little wards."

"Is something wrong?" Taren'nan asked.

"My feet are wet. It's unpleasant. Also there are fewer aravels than I expected."

"Aravels? You mean the wagons? What happened to the rest?"

"Fled or dead. Time to find out which. Put your hood down, da'len. Let them see the points of our ears."

"Will the Dalish attack us if they know we're elves?"

"It might make them hesitate for a moment."

Taren'nan shifted his grip on the stretcher to drag the hood from his head. "Why did you agree to help if that's the case? Throwing your life away on a dumb, heroic gesture?"

Felassan's violet eyes gave away nothing. "My orders aren't the same as yours. And I agree with you, lethallin. They're people. I like to encourage those of us who realize that."

Taren'nan hoped he wouldn't have to use violence against the Dalish. It would endanger their burden, for one. They couldn't stop to check the condition of the Dalish woman but Taren'nan knew from the warmth of her skin she still lived. It was fortunate they'd come across her when they did. I hope I feel the same way an hour from now, he told himself.

"You shouldn't have come here, strangers," a voice said. A voice belonging to a hand with a bow aimed at his throat.

The Dalish had found them.

The stretcher bearing the wounded elf tilted—Taren'nan was forced to let go—dumping his burden to the ground. Felassan had vanished, abruptly gone. Blast the man!

And he felt his mana pouring out of him like an upended pot of ink, blackness spilling into the shadows with his own soul's blood. A lattice of blackness rose up to confine him. He couldn't move.

A new face appeared before him, a figure behind the Dalish who wielded the bow. Tall, well-built, and regal. Elvhen. Suddenly the difference between her and the stunted Dalish wretch was obvious, had never been starker to Taren'nan's disbelieving eyes.

A little notch had been carved in her right ear.

"Welcome to the Second Empire," the elvhen said, and smiled.

Chapter Text

"Maereth?" Taren'nan asked. Stunned, disbelieving, astonished—pick a word or an emotion—everything he thought he'd known, or based his life around since waking, upended in one moment like a gala cake flipped over.

"You were a fool to come here, vhenan," Maereth said. Her watchful face studied his. Something in her eyes was amused, proud. Celebratory.

"They told me you were dead!" he exclaimed.

"Likewise," she replied.

Maereth's companions bound his arms and stripped the foci from his fingers, and he was too weak with the shock of mana loss to resist, staring at the woman he'd long believed gone forever. Felassan had vanished. Taren'nan didn't know where or why or care. He followed willingly enough when they prodded him, surrounded on all sides by his enemies, those who served Anaris, caught in a magic he knew so well—as well as the face of his beloved.

Was she his enemy now? What was she doing here? Why hadn't they killed him already? He was an officer, a valuable prize, though they might not realize his importance. He thought of the two tormented Dalish and felt sick. The injured woman he'd rescued—Anaris' men disregarded her as if she'd been an extra pack he'd carried. They left her behind like refuse.

Desperately he tested his bonds, received an impersonal blow to the head for his efforts. A trickle of blood ran from a cut on his cheek. There was so little he could do without his magic, not even a staff. He had a knife concealed in a wrist sheath but he had to save it—shouldn't even think about that now. Were they taking him to the Dalish camp? Why did they want him alive? She knew he served Fen'Harel. She knew everything about him!

"Will you tell me what happened?" he asked.

Maereth's eyes brushed his, careful but uncaring. She walked beside him, carrying his staff. "After I woke I tried to find your family's crypt in the Labyrinth. They told me it was gone."

"It was. It is.... I was interred elsewhere."

"I see," she said. Like he had resolved a minor mystery that bored her now. She was almost the same as he remembered. A little older in the eyes, as happened to elvhen, and the cut-mark in her ear.

He glanced from face to face—the elvhen who served her, dressed in gray armor, with their hands on their weapons—and the silent, wary Dalish who watched between the trees.

"I don't understand," he said. "How can you serve Anaris? How can you serve the Forgotten Ones?"

"We are the forgotten now," she said.

"How could you?" he said, and like the first spark that engulfs a torch he suddenly remembered to feel outraged. Her men had—they had—but he couldn't piece the words together.

Maereth was alive! His promised. And questions proceeded one after another, dancers in a hectic cotillion: Had the others known? How long had they known? Had Fen'Harel kept it from him? Afraid the young General would desert his cause? Why send him to this place if there was a chance she'd be here? Were they all ignorant, then? Ah!

A part of him was screaming inside, the bad kind of screaming. He thought of that mangled Dalish man hanging from a tree and shuddered. The Second Empire? Hadn't they all learned their lesson from the first one?

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"Looking for you," she said mysteriously. "I'm relieved you appeared when you did, vhenan." And now a hint of amusement curved her lips, the expression he'd earned every time he'd told a witticism or pledged his loyalty with a clever gift. But it wasn't quite the smile he wanted to see. The one he was thinking of combined innocence and wisdom. Both were lacking.

"You looked for me... among the Dalish?" he prompted. "That wouldn't have been my first guess."

They passed into the Dalish camp, nearing the aravels Felassan had pointed out to him before. He could see them better now. Garishly painted wagons with... sails? Landships. Pale and gracile halla stood sleepily in a pen that protected them from predators at night. The clanspeople came out to watch them in the glow of a large, open air fire. They carried weapons but didn't use them.

Peasants, he thought, and immediately felt ashamed. Of course they were afraid. The usual thing would be to take hostages. That's what he would have done. Not that... he would have.

When they reached the fire he saw two more elvhen, her officers, wearing muted armor and Anaris' vallaslin. Broad grins.

"That is well done," one of them said. "May the god smile on us with such a face."

Maereth exchanged a brief series of orders with them, abbreviated speech. One of the officers departed in a hurry. Taren'nan hoped and prayed his companions had already returned to the temple. There were far more elvhen here than any of them had expected. And no sign yet of Nihloras!

"Why the Dalish?" he asked again over his rising apprehension. If he kept tossing questions at her, he might delay whatever they had planned. Maybe he could restore some of his magic, quietly, if he kept her and her companions distracted. He knew so little. He needed something, anything he could turn to his advantage. "They look primitive and poor. Probably never heard of indoor plumbing—that would require doors. Doesn't the Lord of Malice have more important things to do than meddle with quicklings?"

"We're going to save them," she said.

"Why do they need saving?" he asked.

"Not even the Dread Wolf finds the dirt children worthy of attention," Maereth said knowingly. "They've long cried out for the protection of their gods. Anaris hears their prayers. He will deliver vengeance against their enemies, the sons of men. All elf-blooded creatures will have their appointed place in the new Empire."

"As slaves, you mean," he said.

Her lip curled in disdain, but she wasn't finished with her little speech. She nodded at one of her soldiers. "A demonstration," she said.

They brought forth one of the Dalish, shoving him rudely before Taren'nan.

"Behold the quickling elves," Maereth said mockingly.

The elf was dressed similarly to the other Dalish he'd seen so far. Halla leather, simple dyes in shades of green. But this man was... withered. As with a Blight, except he did not seem to be actually corrupted.

His skin was shriveled. His back was bent. His hands were knots, swollen joints and lumpy veins, trembling with a palsy. Hair bleached yellow-white. Discolored brown spots marred his skin. If the husk of a dried-out corpse were somehow made alive—rather than undead—this is what it might look like. But no magic touched him. This was his natural state.

Taren'nan nearly vomited.

"This is what the Veil of Fen'Harel has done to the People!" Maereth's voice rang with outrage and hate. "This storyteller is not even a century old. He wakes with pain in his bones every morning. He can hardly walk, stooped over with the weight of his years like a bent reed. He dwells here in the forest, hiding from the armies of humans who would drive him away. He tills no soil, tends no herds but halla, wears crude garments of hide and spider-silk. He is ignorant of everything that made our People great, all the learning and wonders of our civilization. And worse than that, he has no magic! Can you imagine it, Taren'nan? If Falon'Din beheld this pitiful creature he would consign him to the Beyond! All alas'len are one step from the same fate—mere decades from it—ugliness, pain, decrepitude, ignorance, age. And this horror was inflicted by your Fen'Harel! Anaris has promised it will never happen to another elvhen. You, vhenan, will help us."

Taren'nan mind drowned in the images, the thought of children born under the Veil without magic and their inevitable fate, the same as this poor man. A horror—she was right. A nightmare. Hellathen Viran was meant to be a refuge. But it was nothing but a half measure! Here was the destiny of all quicklings. As Ilgarla knew—she'd spent more time among them than him. He'd objectively known about aging, had seen his share of elderly humans from a distance, but to witness an elf brought low by the same malady gave him striking pain, like a sword blade through his heart.

He'd been confused by Evin'alath, a Dreamer wrapped in the temple's sanctity. This was the reality of her kind. Taren'nan had never heard of any plans to save the quickling elves, and he belonged to Fen'Harel's council. All he knew was what Felassan had said—they were not to interfere.

This, then, was Fen'Harel's truth. The other quickened—the ones the Dread Wolf did not take to his bed—were not worthy of the god's notice.

Taren'nan found himself bowing his head, clutching his manacled hands to his face as though hiding away from the aged elf, looking at anything but the evidence of his race's ruin under the Veil. There hadn't been any other option. Every alternative was worse—he still believed—but now—surely, now—. He felt confused and lost.

Why had it been Maereth? Why hadn't someone else found him? He couldn't just dismiss her arguments. Could by some stretch of the imagination—could they be right? He seriously began to wonder!

Until his wrist brushed against the gift... the unfading silken petals of a lily pinned to his cloak.


They were trying to confuse him.

All of this was useful. It was information. Evaluate it later, he told himself.

Taren'nan drew three quick breaths to center himself. "Is that why you torture them in the woods? How generous. If you want to save these quicklings you're going about it all wrong, 'dear heart'."

"It was not done for pleasure. I regret the necessity," she said.

"Then why?"

"We're looking for a way to awaken them," she said. "Nothing has worked, not even when ruan'in rolled back the Veil. They're dead inside."

Another quick breath. Dead inside? That could not be true. Even dwarves had inner life, a mental world! The quicklings dreamed. They must. They were not completely cut off from the Fade. It was difficult to imagine elves who lacked magic of their own, like trying to imagine fish that lived among the clouds instead of the ocean. But that did not mean the quicklings were dead. It just made them useless to Anaris.

"The Dalish have no magic?" he asked, pretending confusion.

"A few are born with it. Their clans are ruled by mages, as is fitting. But this one's Keeper fled."

Suddenly the aged storyteller stirred. Had he been listening the entire time? The withered creature laughed, revealing a mouth of yellow teeth. "Not fled, ancient one. All are gone to the Arlathvhen. You'll find no Dalish mage between here and the Frostbacks."

"Arlathvhen?" Taren'nan asked, repeating the word, a cluster of syllables that had no meaning in the language he knew.

"Some sort of gathering," Maereth said. She returned her attention to Taren'nan. "I haven't told you this out of fondness for your company, vhenan. I want to persuade you."

"I'll never serve your master," he said. "Do we really have to go through the bother of torture and so forth? You can't break my will. I'm somniari. Even without foci—"

"Anaris guided you here for a reason. We who serve him are few in number. It would be painful to lose a skilled mage. A quickling might serve as a temporary host if he had magic. But now there's no need. We have you. My clever, beautiful Taren'nan."

"Ah. I was wondering why you hadn't killed me," he said. "I hoped it was because you enjoy my company. Silly me."

"It's not your fate to die," Maereth said, gazing at him with chilling certainty. "You will serve Anaris—as his vessel."

Sweet Sylaise, he thought.

Chapter Text

"Let me get this straight," Shayd Sutherland said as she followed the elf through the Fade, or the Crossroads, or whatever it was.

Shayd hated everything about it. Strange paths behind a mirror—there was something wrong with the light—a nasty headache pulsed behind her eyes. When she'd agreed to travel with Lysander Lavellan she hadn't thought it would involve unholy elven magic. And yet the Inquisition's spymaster insisted this was the only way to save Skyhold.

Shayd took a deep, aggravated breath and forced herself to concentrate on the elf's outlandish story. "You're telling me that Ser Solas—the preachy Fade-obsessed nerd who served the Inquisition however many years ago—that Solas—is actually the elven God of Wolves?"

It was almost too ridiculous to imagine. Almost because, well, this was the Inquisitor they were talking about. The Herald of Andraste. Evin Lavellan collected would-be gods the way other people collected commemorative spoons.

There'd been rumors about Evin and Solas back in the day. A bit more than rumors if you'd ever seen the way he mooned after her, as Shayd had plenty of times. If he'd snatched her away—

Solas, Solas, Solas, she thought, shaking her head. Couldn't you have asked her for a romantic walk or something? Bloody idiot.

The spymaster had paused to let Shayd catch up to him on the rubble-strewn path. A wicked smile coaxed his lips but somehow never revealed his teeth. Spending time with Lysander made her miss Voth. Plain, silent Voth, who wasn't creepy at all.

"You have not mastered the secret, shemlen," Lysander said. He sounded frustrated, and that made two of them. "Fen'Harel does not have to be a wolf, or associated with wolves. The god you know as Solas emerged from the hyperphoretic mimesis of the Dread Wolf, the lupine referent in the primitive subconscious. Fear, in other words, though he always did like pride." The elf's smile widened as he spoke, as though he could taste her confusion and relished it. "Fen'Harel's iconic representation is relevant only in the context of myth. 'Dread Wolf' is... a kind of mental shorthand."

"If you want me to remember all that you'll have to write it down," she said sourly. "And since when do you call people shemlen?"

He kept doing this, telling her things she didn't want to know, babbling nonsense words she was sure he'd made up on the spot. It was like he couldn't stop himself. This wasn't the Lysander she remembered. What had happened to him? Were his wits all banged up by the dragons or whatever else had happened to Skyhold? Was he possessed? That happened to mages, didn't it? He was probably concussed halfway to Tuesday, not that he'd let her stop to consult a healer. When she'd suggested it he'd laughed long and hard.

Shayd sighed and told herself it didn't matter. If he was an abomination the Templars would sort it out when they reached Val Royeaux. More likely he was rattled and upset about the Inquisitor, trying to distract himself like she was.

Lysander bobbed his head in a kind of apology. "Forgive me, shem'asha. I'm too accustomed to sharing what I know with those who serve. Better clarity than ignorance, the unknowing lie."

"Right, whatever. And Skyhold disappeared because this... Not Really God of Wolves chucked it in the Fade? Even though that's impossible?"

Lysander's violet eyes gleamed with cool amusement. He gazed at her fondly, as though aware of all her limitations and choosing to overlook them. Patronizing ass. "If it was impossible he could not have done it. Fen'Harel placed the fortress you know as Skyhold within an impermeable eigen-manifold. This he concealed behind the Veil. A clever approach, but I suppose you're right. Chucked it in the Fade is close enough."

"So the Dreadful Wolf came here—to Skyhold, that is—and stole the Inquisitor away to do his dark bidding." In bed, she added silently. Shayd might not be an elf but her culture had plenty of those kinds of stories. "That's plain twisted."

"This language is so imprecise. It tickles my brain," Lysander said with a scowl.

"Why do you think he waited so long?" And Shayd covered her mouth with her hand. "Andraste's flaming ass! Do you think it's possible Revas is—"

All at once the amusement snapped. Lysander's eyes flashed—a tempest of anger. "No, little human. Revas is mine."

Sympathy tugged at Shayd's heart. Evin's little boy was trapped just like Donnal. Poor man, Lysander must be worried sick. No wonder he was acting a bit strange, a mage under so much stress. All knew they were addled to begin with.

The Inquisitor never would have left her child. She must have been kidnapped. Solas you blighted fool!

We have to put this right.

Shayd belonged to Sutherland's Company. She was part of the Inquisition. The Herald had saved their lives so many times—from so many horrible things—it was about time they helped her in turn.

The sudden knot of determination in her stomach made her feel a bit sick again. "I'll do what I can to help, but it sounds more than half insane. Barmy nonsense if you ask me. Even if I tell all this to the Divine, why do you think she'll believe me?"

Lysander began to walk again. "The Divine will believe you for the same reason she believes her ravens, messengers of interpreted truth she unravels from a fabric of lies. Skyhold is gone, this she already knows. What the Nightingale needs is the reason behind it. That is what you will supply."

"And the important part is that Skyhold can be saved? Everyone is still alive?"

"Not all, but most. Worry not, shem'asha, your mate lives."

He lives. That was more than she'd dared to hope when she'd spent all those days combing the mountainside for survivors. If there was any chance at all, Shayd would do it. Even if it meant getting laughed out of the Chantry.

"You think doing this will free them?" she asked.

"I will promise nothing. But if you wish to restore Skyhold within your lifetime, I believe this is the only way."

Shayd pondered the Fade-drenched path before them, the promise of stomach-turning nausea to come, and the unaffected man beside her. "I'm slowing you down. You probably should have brought another elf instead. Why did you decide to take me?"

The spymaster's face got such a queer expression—eyelids flaring as though in triumph quickly tamped down—that Shayd shivered. When he spoke his voice was thoughtful. "Your determination spoke to me, little one. I suppose it's because I believe in family. My brother is trapped behind a mirror too. Finally I see the way to free him."

Brother, not son? Shayd wondered, but she had to hurry to catch up....

"You remember when our parents introduced us and hoped we'd have children someday? I take back my promise," Taren'nan said.

His hands were tied behind his back and he had no mana, but his captors hadn't bound his tongue. Their mistake.

Taren'nan's intended—former intended, extremely past tense at this point—gazed at him with devotion in her eyes, the memory of every sugary thing they'd ever said to each other, and the hope of a future that horrified him. "When you belong to Anaris the god will smile at me with your lips. He will be pleased with me, vhenan. I eagerly await his embrace," Maereth said.

"You deserve each other," Taren'nan muttered.

The elvhen took a few of the quickling elves with them as they departed the Dalish camp. Servants, slaves—an irrelevant distinction to Anaris' people. He caught a glimpse when they passed the fire. Elders gathered around a pallet—the woman he'd tried to rescue. He hoped she survived. What a disappointing reason to get captured otherwise.

When her men prodded him forward he stumbled. They didn't allow him to fall. We mustn't allow the body to come to harm, he told himself sarcastically. The master wouldn't like it.

He was fairly certain the promised hour had passed. That meant the others of his small group had returned to Hellathen Viran. He assumed Felassan had observed everything and crept close enough to listen. That Anaris sought a vessel wasn't especially surprising—awfully hard to run a war across the Veil without a body. And it made sense to choose an outsider. Why sacrifice a skilled mage or rare Dreamer (for of course that's what Anaris would demand), when you could steal one from an enemy?

Fen'Harel would learn what happened to him. There would be no unanswered questions, no fruitless rescue attempts. Maereth had revealed much of her master's plans. Taren'nan could die with a clear conscience, if that was necessary, but he rather hoped he would escape. All he had to do was win free long enough to return to the circle of their eluvian.

His hands were bound in shackles, his legs in chains that tripped him time and again. They'd shattered his armor—it would stop nothing stronger than a light breeze. His foci were gone. He felt sad about that—he wanted them back, had marked the elvhen who'd taken them, though there was little hope of retrieving them now. The bonds prevented his magic from returning.

Fortunately he knew a trick or two that didn't require any.

Taren'nan had little doubt he'd find a way to escape. He was healthy and clever and had been in tighter situations before. He just had to watch for an opportunity.

Although the closer they got to the Font the smaller that chance grew.

And he would need his legs and hands free to effect an escape. He shouldn't waste his tricks until then—but his captors weren't exactly rushing to unchain him.

Despite his confidence Taren'nan felt a sense of growing desperation, a willingness to try the ridiculous—until they reached the Font. And then he was too amazed, too sorrowed, to contemplate his freedom.

Felassan was right. It had changed.

The Font of Brecilia had been a wonder in an empire strewn with them, an amazement of stone built in honor of the gods. A fortress planted in the air, a floating pyramid centered over a ritual complex dug into the earth, a void mirroring the keep above it in tiered levels descending into the earth.

With the Veil, with the war, the wonder was no more.

The Font had collapsed into the emptiness beneath it. Lopsided towers like candles stuck into a rubble, walls smashed to bits. And Taren'nan found himself imagining the day it had happened, the screams, the victims trapped beneath tons of stone or instantly crushed to death. The marvels within—artifacts, irreplaceable artwork—as inaccessible as if they had never been created. The grave his people had built for themselves stood as silent as their bones.

The elvhen led him to a hole burrowed in the muck, an entrance into the remaining side passages that had not collapsed. Their group followed the tunnels deep into the earth, through a cavernous empty space with sufficient lingering magic to remain intact, and further, to a pit covered by a grate.

They threw him inside.

Along the way they'd passed numerous elvhen—the Forgotten One's adherents—those who had woken in the silence and were not found by Fen'Harel, or rejected his egalitarian views. The enemy.

With so many eyes to watch him, in such a prison, he never would escape. And he never would give himself to Anaris. Taren'nan shook his head.

Maybe there were enough elvhen left for his father's type of war.

When the hooded attendant entered the bedchamber Evin Lavellan woke. Her eyes blinked sleepily at the ceiling, tinted rose by the attendant's candle, while she tried to place the day and hour. She heard Fen'Harel's voice murmuring a curse—short-tempered as he usually was when startled awake. She pulled more of the blanket over her body and curled up again. He kissed her cheek before he left.

She listened to the sound of his footsteps until they faded. If only she had a few more minutes. She wanted to sleep. Her body was tired but her mind was alert. How had these days passed so quickly? Had they already reached the end?

She summoned a little ball of light and felt for the heavy woolen robe on the floor. She plaited her hair into a simple braid while she waited.

She was sitting there on the bed, with her ankles crossed beneath the robe and her hands folded patiently in her lap, when Fen'Harel returned for her.

She read the strain in the corners of his eyes, the frown working at the edges of his mouth.

"He's alive," she said.

Fen'Harel shut his eyes for a moment in relief. But he was still unhappy. "You knew what would happen when they went to the Font. Vhenan—"

"You're the one who brought me here and said I couldn't leave," she reminded him. "I told them as much as I could. Who jailed whom, Dread Wolf?"

He reacted badly to that, shoulders square and stiff, mouth flexed in a grimace. "They have questions, if you are willing."

When she joined him he took a moment to tug the collar of her robe, an excuse to touch her, reassuring himself. She took his arm and leaned into it, sighing a little when he embraced her.

"I did it only to protect you and the Anchor, everything my enemies would destroy," he said.

"Then they're my enemies too," she said, looking up at him.

In the dim light his eyes were dark, saddened with memory. "Taren'nan's father was the best of us. He died saving my life. It is painful to imagine one of my people fallen into Anaris' hands, one whose future is so bright."

"Then we should save him," Evin said.

"Even if the price is your secret?" he asked carefully.

We'll see who pays that price, Dread Wolf, she thought. I hope you can forgive me.

In the audience chamber a number of his war council had assembled, plus some of the sentinels. Varen stood beside them like a watchful shepherd, amber eyes intent beneath his hood.

"Everything you told us was true," Era'garas said simply.

Varen extended his arm to Evin, handing over a roll of parchment. Evin accepted it and glanced down at the seal. Elven letters she couldn't read.

"What Anaris intends would harm your people as well as ours. We need your sight," Varen said.

"We drew up a list of questions," Era'garas said.

Evin broke the seal. She glanced through the scroll. She didn't know much more than the bare letters of their writing, but even that was enough to confirm what she'd expected.

As Evin took her place in the chair beside Fen'Harel's empty one a tremor of excitement made her shiver, the same prickly suspense she felt in the throws of the Game when possibilities danced with the cast of a die. She reminded herself firmly what this was for—not such small stakes as her life or even a kingdom.

This was for Skyhold and the people trapped within. The Inquisition. The elves. Her people and her son. The daughter Fen'Harel would give her if she could keep to that path. She wanted it so badly, the bright path, the promised future, not just for herself but all of them. If she failed they all would.

Please work with me, she thought imploringly. Let me find a way to help you.

"I would be very happy to assist," she said.

And their faces relaxed with relief, all except Fen'Harel's. He knew her too well.

Evin folded her hands together over the scroll and cocked her head, smiling up at them. "An excellent place to begin negotiations, lethallin."

Chapter Text

The negotiations weren't going well. Evin Lavellan was starting to feel as tired and stubborn as the elvhen around her, and so far Fen'Harel had opened his mouth for nothing but tea. Evin couldn't tell if the Dread Wolf was trying to avoid the appearance of favoritism by supporting her—or if he agreed with his people and didn't want to anger his vhenan. Sometimes the best move is not to play, she told herself wryly. Meeting his eyes she gave him a small, weary smile.

The scroll of questions—the ones the elvhen wanted Evin's supposed farsight to answer—rested on a small table between them. The sun would rise soon, but the corners of the audience chamber were still draped with shadows. The veilfire candles did nothing to dispel the slight chill of early spring. Evin huddled in her robe and wished slippers were permitted inside the sanctum.

"Inquisitor, you are wasting our time," Varen said impatiently. "If we are to mount any sort of rescue—"

"If you wanted to save one man we wouldn't be having this discussion," Evin interrupted, her voice cool. "You're no worse off without my help. What you want is certainty. The total destruction of your enemy."

"Is that what you offer?" the former leader of Mythal's sentinels demanded. The other elvhen in the audience chamber listened, keen-eyed and thoughtful.

"I can." And at their sudden, unblinking silence Evin reached for the delicate tea cup on the table beside her. "At least, I can make it possible."

"How can you be certain?"

"Because of what I've seen," she said.

"A bold claim," Era'garas said. The general was still clad in scaled armor with her pale hair in unruly, sweat-dampened locks. "I scouted as far as the Font. It's well-fortified, an armed camp dug into the earth. A frontal assault would cost many lives. If this ability of yours has revealed something, if you truly know the way, do not keep silent, young one."

"Do you care for the elvhen at all?" one of the others muttered.

The insinuation stung. "I care very much," Evin said quietly. She hated this, haggling over lives when every concession had a cost. And they'd given her no choice. "What about the lives of my people? Who will speak for them if I do not? If you will not release me—"

"Do not imagine it," Varen warned.

Era'garas leaned forward, hands braced on armored knees. "You say you wish to save your people. It is in both our interests to defeat Anaris. The Brecilian Dalish are threatened as well. We ask only the information necessary to save lives."

Evin bit back a frustrated sigh. If only Josephine were here. She missed her friends more than ever. The Inquisition's ambassador wouldn't need foresight as a crutch. Josie would have known exactly how to handle these elvhen. She would have sipped their tea without a grimace, no matter how sickly sweet. Evin could only approximate a route through the Fade-shrouded branches of the future. She couldn't execute on it the way a trained diplomat could.

And she was working under a dangerous, self-imposed constraint: she still hadn't returned to the ruined Vianaris.

As much as Evin needed its power she found herself hesitating at the cost, frightened by the memory of what the Anchor had done to her at Skyhold. Drowning in the Abyss. The child who'd grasped the red-hot coal was too afraid to reach for it again. She didn't want to go there alone.

For days now she'd told herself she would return when it was time. She'd been swept up in the tide, navigating through the present with a Mark that revealed more than ever before. She'd run out of excuses, and it was too late to ask Fen'Harel. She would need the Vianaris for what the elvhen wanted: the Lord of Malice on a platter. They wanted her to defeat a god.

They would never release her otherwise.

If Anaris' followers were active in Brecilia it might explain some of the unrest in that region since the end of the Blight. Perhaps there were parallels to Clan Lavellan's activities in the Free Marches, but there was something strange about that. Evin had never heard of Lavellan engaging in torture, not even against humans. Killings, yes. Targeted assassinations. But not wholesale mayhem. If Era'garas was correct these other servants of Anaris had no such scruples. Did that matter? Why the difference? Something was out of place. She didn't have enough information. And she needed to focus.

Forgive me, ma lath, she thought.

Evin turned the tiny, robin's egg cup in its saucer as though studying the murky liquid. "My responsibility is to the people of Skyhold. They are my first duty. I have my own resources, my own mages in the Inquisition. If you won't permit me to use them I'll do what I must."

"What happened at Tarasyl'an Te'las is unfortunate but it is not our concern today," Varen said.

Good old Abelas. Reliable as the sunrise. Evin set the teacup aside. She lifted her eyes to scan the faces before her. "Fen'Harel led the Huntress to my door, an act that caused many deaths. My stronghold is locked behind the Veil and contaminated with red lyrium."

"That is not your stronghold," one of the other elvhen said. "Tarasyl'an is ours. This Inquisition is a temporary interloper."

"Fen'Harel gave Skyhold over to us. If you dispute our use of it take it up with your god. It was your enemies who damaged it. Your affinities decided to bring me here."

The god in question remained silent with a cold cup of tea before him. He was staring at her—with a kind of rising suspicion in his face.

"And you refuse to aid us otherwise?" Era'garas asked with disbelieving eyes.

"My request is reasonable," Evin said.

Varen exchanged a glance with the general. His expression was sour. "An army of Dreamers is not reasonable."

She almost felt fond of Varen. Grumpy, easy to predict Varen. Was that why Mythal had chosen him? Amusing to consider. "Is there some other way to restore Skyhold in a practical amount of time? From what I understand it could be done in a matter of months if you sent enough mages. Alternatively. Release me and the problem goes away."

"You cannot leave," Varen said flatly. "The Anchor is too important."

"If Skyhold is safe enough for my child it should be safe enough for me." Evin's voice grated a little.

"That does not follow," Varen said.

"Then give me Dreamers," she snapped.

The former sentinel cleared his throat. His expression was grudging. "If were were willing to spare five somniari for fifty days, would you consider it a constructive gesture?"

At last, she thought, concealing her relief. The next few moves were important. "So few? For so little time?" she asked.

"We need somniari to assist with upkeep of the temple. Or did you think the ease of our life here comes without any expense of magic?"

"Let me help," Evin said instantly. "If there's work to do here at Hellathen Viran you only have to show me how. Give me fifteen Dreamers."

"Fifteen? There are not that many somniari awake and among us. Some are in the field and cannot be spared—"

"Then give me mages! Give me one mage per question. It will take years to clear Skyhold otherwise! Show me what the Dreamers do here in the temple and judge for yourself whether—"

"I will go," Fen'Harel said.

Evin closed her mouth abruptly. That was a solution—but not the one she'd wanted. "You don't have to do that," she said.

"Ruan'in?" Era'garas asked.

Fen'Harel set his jaw. "I am to blame for what happened at Skyhold. It is fitting that I return to undo some of the evil."

"I didn't—. It doesn't have to be you," Evin said.

He met her eyes. "In any event I must go with them to open the way. This is the best solution."

"You should not go, Fen'Harel. We need you to help plan the assault on the Font," Varen said.

"You can consult me just as easily in the Fade," Fen'Harel said. "I will make myself available for that, though it will not be possible to communicate within the vault itself. I intend to stay there long enough to assist the other Dreamers and to evacuate the keep. In which case I should leave as soon as possible. Will that satisfy you, Inquisitor Lavellan?"

"Yes," Evin said.

"Are you satisfied, Varen?" Fen'Harel asked.

"We cannot make the decision ourselves. The affinities must ratify it," the former sentinel said.

"Can I attend?" Evin asked.

But she already knew the answer. Varen didn't want her to influence the result.

His reply was interrupted by the sound of a cloth hem shifting across the stone floor. One of the robed apparitions entered the audience chamber. Evin had learned to pay them little heed, though it was unusual for—

"Cole?" she asked in astonishment.

The scarecrow-haired spirit stared at her with dark shadows under his pale eyes. The black robes he wore were much too large for him. The sleeves drooped over his hands and the oversized hood was in danger of slipping past his eyes.

"I have a message for Solas," the spirit said. "The others asked if I would bring it. Will you—will you read it?"

"You needn't call me Solas here," Fen'Harel said.

Cole bowed low over the message he offered. After Fen'Harel read it Cole handed it to Evin, so she wouldn't have to pretend.

A tiny scrap of paper with three words written in the common tongue, a dispatch from the sentinel Fen'Harel had stationed in Skyhold. She recognized Arlasan's hand. One line:

Lysander is gone.

Chapter Text

When the elvhen had gone Evin Lavellan tackled Cole for a hug. The slender spirit braced himself as though confused by the gesture, stiff-armed and uncertain. He gave the Inquisitor's shoulder a few awkward pats. Cole had finally found his way to her—she was anxious for news.

The spirit was dressed much like the unspeaking servants of Fen'Harel's inner sanctum, except the long, sweeping robe dwarfed him utterly, making him look childlike and incredibly pale. And while it was a relief to see him again, it reminded Evin of everything she needed to do, all the things she had so little time to prepare, and her little boy far away at Skyhold. She couldn't hug Revas or tweak his honey curls but she could hug a Cole-shaped substitute.

"I missed you," Evin said, stepping back to beam at him.

A pleased, puzzled smile widened on his face. "I wasn't missing. You were happy with your Wolf. Others needed me more—like The Iron Bull. I told him Ilgarla likes his ass."

"Does she? Maker help him," Evin asked, amused. "Was Bull unhappy? I thought he was enjoying himself."

"The elvhen have old wounds, lesions of loss in layers like overlapping scars. Some of them see me." Cole's blue eyes widened to stress how remarkable this was. "The Iron Bull was sad because the elvhen treat him... other. Apart and not a part. They don't mean to. They just think they're better."

"Yes, I get that impression," Evin said dryly. "Thank you for looking after him, Cole, I'm glad you're here. I should get dressed now. Will you stay a while?"

"Yes," he said.

The spirit followed her obediently into a small side chamber where Fen'Harel kept his armor and a clothes chest. "Close your eyes," she instructed. She changed out of her robe while Cole ducked his face behind his pasty hands.

When she was dressed in a blush-colored gown she eased onto the trunk—Fen'Harel's avid attention had left some parts of her notably sore—and smoothed the lacy skirt over her knees.

"Cole, I'm glad you found your way here. There's something I want to ask. Do you know what happened to Guile? Do you know where he went?"

The spirit frowned at her, pale and serious eyes framed by sorrowful brows. "I went looking for him. I searched, seeking the stray, sensing, unsuccessful. I'm sorry. He must be hiding."

Dragons, red lyrium, the lynx. Some of her memories were hazy. Others were painfully sharp. Evin's frown was directed at herself. "You were brave to seek him out. Guile attacked at my weakest moment. It was unprovoked, vicious. Can a spirit come back from that? Was he a spirit at all? If only I knew why. If I could talk to him—"

"Guile doesn't know," Cole said

A chill ran through her. "What do you mean?"

But Cole couldn't find an answer in words she could understand. "Cunning, confused and confounded. He wanted the bright thing but not to break it. That's why the puppet ran—he couldn't cut the strings. What will you do if you see him again?"

"Apologize," she said cautiously. "Spirits reflect the world they inhabit. Solas taught me that and it's true. That's not to excuse what Guile did, but he isn't an elf or a human. He was a Spirit of Intellect once, a pure being. And I used him. If I twisted him beyond his nature, what happened isn't only his fault."

"What if he was already twisted?" Cole asked.

"Then I was terribly naive," she said. And I may have to kill him either way.

"It wasn't you," he insisted.

Evin wished that was true, but where did it leave her? The Vianaris would have been far less effective if she hadn't had Guile's advice when she'd built it. And without Cole she might have come to use it for the wrong reasons. The three had spent countless hours together—years, if Fade time mapped to the physical world. It was painful to realize an era of her life was over. Worse, she'd failed a friend on a fundamental level. If she'd broken a being of boundless imagination and artfulness she owed him far more than an apology.

But if Cole couldn't find him there wasn't much she could do. There were higher priorities than a single treacherous lynx. The Arlathvhen. She had to make ready.

"I may not be allowed to speak to the affinities this morning but that doesn't mean I can't make myself useful," Evin said.

"May I come with you?" Cole asked.

"Always," she said.

Evin gazed down at her Anchor-less hand, tested the hidden thrum of the power within her, and smiled at Cole. "I'm glad you're here. It's been a fun couple of days, but it's time to make some noise."

"Can we give flowers to your Wolf? Solas would like that," the spirit suggested.

Listen to compassion, she told herself. "Not my first thought, but let's go with it."

It was cold in the cell, and damp, and the crumbling walls were covered with mottled brown and black moss. It was basically a stone-lined pit with a grate over it and a hatch magically sealed. Taren'nan could almost take three paces when he traversed the widest point. Not enough space to stretch out, if a desire should seize him to lie down in the muck for some insane reason. The air was as sour as jealousy, a rank miasma that spoke poorly of the personal habits of whomever had previously occupied the place. Without any magic, with his hands still bound, Taren'nan had little chance of sprucing it up. He hoped his captors would take him to his actual cell shortly. If they intended to keep him here he would seriously prefer some sort of coma. Although in that case he wouldn't be able to escape.

Alas, he seemed to be in an out of the way part of the Font, or at least one that wasn't frequented by Anaris' servants. Which gave him far too much time to review the decisions that had led him to this point, the few resources at his disposal, and Maereth's little speech: Elves without magic who aged and died, banished gods who threatened and compelled. But Taren'nan wasn't the type to brood over a predicament, which meant he grew extremely bored all too quickly.

He tried to distract himself by playing a game of aravas in his head. After a while he got the disturbing impression the shadows in the dank cell were inspecting him. Darker areas in the blackness shifted and fled, eyes like pinpricks of veilfire winked in and out, or was he only imagining it? Too dark in here. He wanted more light. And maybe something to eat.

Coma, he thought. More and more attractive.

Anaris couldn't claim his body if he was asleep. Right? The transfer of control had to be voluntary. Taren'nan wished he knew more about the vessel ritual. He'd never studied coercive enchantments—as a follower of Fen'Harel it hadn't been pertinent. They'd been fighting to end all that, to free the elvhen. And here they were however many millennia later, fighting the same damn war in a far worse world.

A visitor announced its arrival with a scrape of boots and a pitter-patter rain of gravel on Taren'nan's face.

He ducked by reflex, then winced up at the grating with disgust. "Do you mind? I was trying to brood."

Nihloras had come to inspect the day's catch. Delicately decorated armor flexed easily as the man crouched beside the grate. "So this is the body my lord wants. He should have chosen me."

Taren'nan perked up a bit. "Let's work something out."

"My face is too damaged. It offends my lord's vanity," Nihloras replied. He sounded amused, but when he angled his head to the side Taren'nan could see the grisly wound that had claimed the man's eye. He would have been handsome if not for that fresh, slashing scar. It split the skin of his face from the crowned vallaslin on his forehead to the gaping parted eyelid down to the right cheekbone.

The shadows in the little cell began to whisper, sibilant and angry. A chill snatched at Taren'nan, hissing along the back of his neck, but it wouldn't do to show fear.

"Ouch. You should probably sleep until that heals," Taren'nan said, full of false sympathy, one elvhen to another.

"Strange to think I will soon bow to you," Nihloras said. His voice echoed in the tunnel, a melodious sound, but cold. He smirked with the hale half of his face. "Will my lord keep your tedious sense of humor? Doubtful."

"Tedious? Perhaps that injury damaged your hearing more than your looks."

Nihloras looked away, gazing across at something Taren'nan couldn't see. He gave a sharp nod at whoever else was there.

"Bring him," the sentinel ordered. "Time for our friend to meet his new lord."

With the elders busy deciding the fate of Skyhold there was no one to stop Evin and Cole from going where they liked. Not that the elvhen really forbade anything, Evin had noticed. They preferred suggestions and subtle pressure, gentle distractions one perceived mostly in retrospect. Even, or perhaps especially, Fen'Harel. Her vhenan wasn't above a lie but he preferred the truth, parsed with the precision of a Rivaini duelist.

She had to admit they were rather well-suited to each other.

Evin was free of well-meaning meddlers for the moment. Her ladies were nowhere to be found. Aside from the pair of sentinels who followed her and Cole no one paid them any attention. Nor did anyone suggest archery or dancing as the most appropriate way for the Inquisitor to spend her morning.

Much easier if the Anchor remained content with an easy life in Hellathen Viran. All she had to do was abandon her people and sit on her power. If she let the world pass her by she would earn her place among the aloof and condescending immortals. The affinities might agree to help Skyhold without an explicit surrender, thinking that would satisfy her. But the elf-maid who'd interrupted a self-proclaimed god and gained a Mark, the elf-mother who'd forged a lasting peace between nations, wasn't ready to retire.

She left the inner precinct of the temple, the sanctified ground, and went to the grotto below the lake where her father was imprisoned. The sentinels grew concerned, frowning with unease, but when they realized where she was headed they didn't stop her. Cole followed like a faithful shadow robed in black.

A winding stairway of shallow steps, the Veil growing steadily more opaque, and a stone archway littered with neutralizing runes. She passed under it without a second glance. She greeted the warriors who guarded her father with a nod.

A man imprisoned would sleep to pass the time, but Revalas Lavellan was like his daughter—uneasy in repose. He sat up when she approached, observing the sentinels who accompanied her, and she knew exactly what he was thinking. Counting weapons, concealed and otherwise, estimating their likely experience and expertise. A honed reflex.

"Good morning," she said politely.

"I'm surprised Fen'Harel's people allowed you here," Revalas said.

"I didn't let them decide." She nodded at Cole; the spirit withdrew to keep watch. She didn't want to be disturbed too soon.

"What do you—"

"I didn't come to ask you questions," she interrupted.

The hint of a smile touched his eyes—she remembered when it had been the only thing that guided her. Revalas looked up at the stone overhang above him, the lines of magic that held him imprisoned. "Why are you here, little one? I trust you haven't come to set me free."

"A strange reward for shooting me. No, I have an offer for your master."

"Very well," he said, and his gaze sharpened. "Which one?"

Chapter Text

Quite deliberately Evin Lavellan made the established signal: I am not being watched. I am here of my own free will.

Revalas Lavellan gave a knowing smirk. His chin lifted slightly as he considered the sentinels who flanked her. "We both know that's not true. Run back to your Wolf, ma'len. Tell him to come himself."

He didn't believe her. Evin had known he wouldn't but it was still annoying. Her mouth tightened. "He won't. He didn't even care enough to kill you. The offer is from me."

Her father reclined on the narrow pallet that served as his bed, apparently at ease in a makeshift jail choked with suppressive magic. He wore rune-inscribed fetters. An austere black tunic contrasted with his ashen hair and pale skin. His dark eyes crinkled at the corners, almost a smile. "You've been his creature since the day you stretched forth your hand to receive the Anchor. You do not belong here."

As if she was nothing but a messenger. Revalas had the same habits of mind as Voth, who believed himself a tool, an instrument in someone else's hand. She suddenly wondered if Fen'Harel felt as frustrated by that as she did.

All must serve, she told herself. There had to be a way to break past it. A man caught between two gods would necessarily carve out a space between them. But she'd never been able to read her father. That hadn't changed.

Evin sank to her knees, dropping to eye level with the prisoner, steadying herself with one hand against the clammy, rough-grained mosaic of the ground. It was early morning and the air was cold against her face. A few birds called in the dim, pearly light. The grotto behind Revalas was black.

"What do you do when your masters disagree?" Evin asked. "Did both of them want to poison me, or just one?"

"Ask better questions," Revalas said icily.

"I love him. I don't work for him," Evin said.

"Evin, you are a puppet. A lovely doll like the ones I took from you at your mother's house. Thinking otherwise is an error."

"You don't know what I am. What if you're wrong?" Evin asked.

Revalas gave an amused shake of his head.

Maker's breath. Sweat broke out on Evin's forehead. It was like she was twelve again, under examination while her father sat as judge and ignored what she wanted. Revalas might be pent up in the Dread Wolf's prison but he acted as in control as ever. How could she be certain he would speak to his god? She had to preserve Taren'nan—to delay Fen'Harel's enemies long enough to save Skyhold and the others. Her father was the key. But he was just like the other elvhen. He didn't see her.

Revalas looked past her to the pair of sentinels at her side, the other warriors stationed by the entrance to the ravine, wardens of his prison. "You brought formidable companions."

"They're worried someone might leap out and attack me." She widened her eyes, feigning bewilderment. "I can't imagine why."

"I'm pleased to have taught Fen'Harel caution," Revalas began. But as he spoke the two guards beside her twitched. Revalas caught the movement without seeming to.

Trust me a little, Evin thought, and let her mouth form a moue of disappointment. "Your idea of operational security has certainly diminished."

His eyes snapped back to hers. "Perhaps the Wolf would not forbid you from seeing me if you wished," he said thoughtfully, "but it only takes two words. Two words and those sentinels find a reason to drag you from here. Do you know which ones?"

That was easy to answer even without foresight. "They don't speak common. Avoid proper names."

Revalas inclined his head. "You said you had an offer. Your god is not party to it?"

"If he knew what I intended he would kill you," she said.

"So much for indifference." Revalas folded his hands together, eyes flickering from one sentinel to the other, meditative, slightly pained. "You do not understand my hesitation—but I do not understand your certainty."

"You don't need to," she said.

He dropped his gaze. "One does not bargain with gods. Their arrangements are for equals. You haven't seen with your own eyes—their power—the reason we worship and regard them with awe—"

"All of Thedas saw their power. We saw it with the Breach!" Evin let frustration color her voice. "A god's magic gone awry. I saw Andruil twist the vallaslin with my own eyes—and I stopped her. I'll act as I see fit. Is that so impossible for you elvhen? Is everything you do for your master—whichever one you're serving now? You don't dance to your strings. Why should I?"

"All must serve," he said.

There, Evin thought, releasing a breath. "You weren't obeying orders when you retrieved me from the Alienage. No elvhen god would bother with a quickling daughter."

"You may be surprised what they take an interest in."

"And when you refrained from killing me? A slow-acting, curable poison? No servant of the Forgotten Ones would have spared the Wolf's mate."

A muscle worked in his jaw. "I didn't spare you. I stretched the interpretation of my orders. You gave sufficient reason. Unique magic—it was nicely done."

And for the first time in Evin's life her father's praise meant nothing. She neither trusted nor forgave—the memories of fear and blind confusion were too immediate. He'd hurt her too much, too recently. Revalas might not entirely serve Anaris but he was deadly dangerous. Had he hesitated at all when he'd learned she was the target? Not for longer a second. Just as Fen'Harel hadn't hesitated to sacrifice Skyhold and everyone in it when he thought it necessary. If Evin hadn't been there, if she hadn't been awake, the Dread Wolf would have let it be destroyed.

"Idiots," she said under her breath. All the men in her life were liars and idiots.

She glared at Revalas, his proud face and wavy hair and rugged jawline. She wanted to win him over, perhaps even frighten him as he had frightened her, but there were lines she wouldn't cross.

Part with a different secret. Capture his attention.

She had to be certain. And there was one secret left for a man with two masters, a Lavellan, a message brought by Cole:

Lysander is missing.

Lysander, who knew her secret.

Lysander, whose shadow fell across her in the Dales.

Her spymaster, her lover once when she'd despaired over Solas, who'd come to her after Revas was born. A servant sent to watch her. Was it curiosity? Or something stronger?

A message for one god would ensure the other was delivered.

"Tell Lysander if he meddles he will regret it. The quickling elves are mine. They have always been mine."

How quickly his expression changed. All trace of idleness vanished. Was he worried or play-acting? "That one follows his own counsel," Revalas said. "Do not—please do not threaten what you do not understand."

Evin pressed her lips together with distaste. "Why, would he order someone else to kill me?"

Revalas leaned forward—eyes sharp as his voice. "He would come himself. Listen to me. If you wish to leave I can—"

"I already know how to leave," she said. "Your master can keep his secrets."

"Then what is your offer?"

"I'm willing to make a trade, a life for a life," Evin said. "I want Taren'nan. Tell Anaris he can have you in exchange."

They both knew what would happen if that offer was accepted. Evin rose to her feet because she was out of time, because the sentinels had heard too many names. She stepped forward before they could do more than reach for her arm.

"Goodbye," she said. A word she'd never been able to tell him before. And perhaps that eased something in them both.

He'd taught her how to kill, what it meant to deceive, the usefulness of fear. But he hadn't taught her malice.

"Evin—" Revalas spoke quickly, hesitated, forced himself to continue. "Your child. Will you let me see him once?"

She spoke through numb lips and tongue. "He isn't with me. I'm not the person you should ask."

"I see," he said, blanching once more into seeming dispassion. "Of course."

A memory came to her then, something she hadn't thought of in years. Her father, a man she didn't know, who'd come to claim her from the Alienage, kneeling beside her mother's bed while Evin fretted outside. She remembered—with an adult's eyes, with an adult's insight—the expression on his face when Irina reached for him with illness-stricken arms. If Revalas had been distant toward his daughter, if he had been unsparing and impossible for a child to understand, he had also been in mourning—for a woman he had loved.

Ten years was nothing for elvhen. Grief followed them for centuries.

"Ruan'asha," one sentinel said.

Evin gazed at her father, willing him to meet her eyes. When he did she felt a stinging hint of tears, a constriction in her throat. "His name is Revas," she said. Freedom, not defiance. But close.

And then it was time to leave.

"Ma'len, wait," Revalas said. "Let me ask—are you happy? Does he treat you well?"

Evin half-turned toward her father, paired on either side by sentinels relieved to see her go. Her mouth quirked. "He tries."

"If he stops trying, you tell me," Revalas said with an assassin's chilling smile. "Gods have been killed for less."


In a different prison half a continent away, Nihloras tossed back the grate with a metallic clatter. Taren'nan hoped his captors might unbind him to let him climb out of the cell. No such luck. Instead of a rope ladder a durgen-elgar, tall as a lamppost, reached in with a stony arm. The carved expressionless face, smooth head, and conspicuous ears of a granite-sculpted elf was animated by a captive spirit. Taren'nan shuddered when the creature's hand caught him like a vise and lifted him out.

"Put me down, put me down," Taren'nan exclaimed, as close to panic as he'd been since he arrived.

Nihloras gave a peevish nod. When the durgen-elgar relaxed its grip Taren'nan slid to the ground. He gulped in a breath and struggled to his feet, unbalanced by the manacles around his wrists and ankles. All too quickly Nihloras' party of elvhen prodded him forward, with the durgen-elgar a looming presence at his side.

As unnerved as he was by the stone-spirit, as much as he dreaded their destination, Taren'nan was relieved to be out of the disgusting cell. Nihloras seemed relaxed but watchful. Perhaps the scarred sentinel felt a bit chatty, for he kept a running commentary.

"Traditionally one purifies the body," Nihloras said easily, casting his critical eye at Taren'nan. "Purgatives, perfumed baths, and so forth."

"We wouldn't want your Exalted One to suffer bad breath," Taren'nan said. "Is it time to mention I get a rash when stressed? Allergic to torture. Break out in ghastly hives—"

"You needn't worry. We don't practice torture," Nihloras said.

"The Dalish would disagree."

"I meant our kind, of course. Who cares what happens to shemlen?"

"Not you, clearly."

Nihloras gave him a thin but amiable smile. The sentinel's magic was a stunning force that never left him—Taren'nan could sense it despite the numbing effect of his bonds. It was as though the man cast shadow in all directions. Flickers of darkness appeared in the corner of Taren'nan's vision—shades that murmured and blinked their silvery eyes.

"It will be deeply satisfying when the god erases your personality," Nihloras said. Though he spoke carelessly the shades repeated his words with a muted, chilling whisper.

Taren'nan shivered—mostly at the shadows. They would not be easy to defeat.

The party made their way through several cramped, narrow tunnels. Taren'nan thought he recognized them from before. But though he wanted to escape there were too many factors against him. His hands were bound, he was greatly outnumbered, and he couldn't hope to outrun the durgen-elgar. If any one of those circumstances changed he would try. Until then it was pointless.

After a while they arrived in a built-up section of the Font. The walls were lined with even, regular stones, a pattern Taren'nan knew well. Slaves—it was always slaves and commoners whose magic did such work. None of the wonders came free.

Guided by his captors he passed beneath a series of ever higher vaulted ceilings until they reached a wide and echoing cavern. A dim red glow lit the floor and branched along the walls, a crimson scrawl of pulsing, humming lines like arteries. Red lyrium? Here?

At the far end of the chamber was a dais which held a casket and even more corrupted lyrium, vast crystals and formations tall as a man, more of it than Taren'nan had ever seen at once. The stuff murmured in his ears, buzzed between his temples. It was so dangerous—why they did they tolerate it? Yet Nihloras didn't even glance its way. Weren't they worried? Were they that foolish?

The durgen-elgar took up a place behind the casket. Taren'nan glanced at it but couldn't see inside, and then Nihloras unlocked Taren'nan's manacles, not to release him but to give him a little more freedom to move. The sentinel indicated a chair carved of stone. Taren'nan sat obediently, relieved they had placed him away from the lyrium. He still could feel its heat against his skin.

And then Nihloras activated a wheel of runes about the chair. Taren'nan's manacles clanked against the stone and locked in place. He couldn't budge them.

Fuck. This was it. Those runes were—

"Relax, my friend," Nihloras said. "For you the process is simple. I activate the circle, Maereth sacrifices the relic, then the god moves in."

Taren'nan fought to remain calm. "Isn't there a flaw in that plan? A vessel must agree to receive a soul, and I don't."

Nihloras grinned. "I'll be surprised if you last ten minutes."

"You can't torture a Dreamer," Taren'nan said desperately. "As soon as I'm unconscious—"

Maereth stepped forward—she was here? Of course. She beckoned, and from a difference entrance came a huddled group of Dalish elves, frightened, children crying.

"You care about them," she said.

Fuck. His heart began to race. "I—well—care is a strong word—"

She made another gesture. A pair of warriors dragged one of the Dalish forward. A mature man, perhaps a hunter, dressed in tooled brown leather. This one showed no sign of fear, but his face was ashen, with eyes like pieces of flint. He refused to even look at the elvhen.

"I'm sorry for this," Maereth said. "But it is necessary. You must yield."

Mythal forgive me. Taren'nan shook his head. "I will not."

Maereth made a gesture. The durgen-elgar strode forward with slow and ponderous movements. The spirit-creature gripped the Dalish man in one enormous hand. And slowly began to squeeze. Granite fingers, crunching bones, a choking cry.

It took the man an excruciatingly long time to die.

When it was over, when the last echo of the screams had faded from the chamber, the body fell forward into a spreading pool of blood. And there was more—the death had fueled Nihloras' enchantment. The runes about Taren'nan's feet glowed stronger. Blazing, fiery light made him wince, that and the tears streaming from his eyes.

"You see? No need for torture," Nihloras said. "We'll kill as many as it takes. As many as you want." The man began to laugh. "This will be interesting. Perhaps you don't actually care about them. I wouldn't blame you. Diseased and weak and temporary. They're not worth your soul."

"Anaris will improve the lives of these people, all the People," Maereth said, her familiar voice intense. "He needs a foothold in this world. An empire needs an Emperor. You can help us. If you agree I will release them. I swear it."

Taren'nan looked away—but his gaze landed on the corpse. "I can't."

"String up the next one. Let him watch," Nihloras ordered.

"How many lives are you worth?" Maereth asked.

As she spoke Taren'nan's will began to falter. There must be two dozen men and women here. Was it the entire clan, an entire bloodline? Was he so proud as to demand the deaths of every one? And when these quick-children were gone they could simply capture more. He didn't think—if they got to the younger ones, or the women—they were not warriors—he didn't think he could—how could he resist—

Being a warrior means being willing to sacrifice yourself for others. He was an officer, a general, but he was just one man. He wasn't worth so many lives! Even if these people were... shemlen. Quicklings. What a vicious test! Either he believed the Dalish had equal value and acted accordingly—or he revealed the hollowness of his words.

It was so much easier to maintain your principles when the only life at stake was yours.

And it was ultimately pointless, a futile waste of lives. Anaris didn't need him! There was no shortage of possible vessels. The god would eventually capture some other mage who would acquiesce. One of his other elvhen might volunteer—Nihloras would heal eventually. How many would they kill in the meantime? What was the point of resisting when the enemy was this cruel?

I don't—I can't— he told himself.

Fear gripped him. Fear of himself, fear of what Anaris would make him do. How would Fen'Harel ever forgive him? Or the young Evin? He was sweating. His hands began to shake.

"Get another," Nihloras ordered. "Something young."

"Dammit! Wait," Taren'nan said.

Chapter Text

"It's so much less fun when your opponent gives in," Nihloras said. There was a dissatisfied frown on the sentinel's face; he brought his hands together in a single, desultory clap. At his command the stone-spirit released the Dalish woman it had been threatening. She scrambled awkwardly back to the relative safety of the other prisoners. The tight band of apprehension that had been constricting Taren'nan's breath relaxed.

Maereth's face glowed in the reflected light of red lyrium that suffused the cavern. "You have made the correct decision, vhenan."

"I rather hope so," Taren'nan said acidly.

Taren'nan had always loathed the idea of Anaris' followers. There was nothing pleasing about people who built a religion out of savoring the pain of others. What was new to him was the sudden, soul-scraping depth of his hatred. It left him trembling, his face twisted with disgust. If any part of him remained after this—and he fervently hoped something would—Anaris was going to be cross as a starveling dragon with his followers. They were all going to suffer—and he intended to revel in every moment via whatever vicarious perch his possessed body afforded. Malice might be underrated as an emotion.

The cavern in which the elvhen stood was far from empty, nor was the durgen-elgar beside Nihloras the only one of its kind present. A scrawl of blighted lyrium flickered with crimson rage along the wall behind them, twisting across the floor in fractured sheets of crystal that terminated in glittering facets. Taren'nan's eyes swept across the chamber—from the one-eyed sentinel coaxing forbidden magic through the Veil, to the huddled Dalish prisoners, to the armored elvhen guarding the exits. A few broken items of dwarven make, carved tables and so forth, surrounded the bier he'd noticed before. Maereth's voice lifted in a chant that echoed throughout the space.

"Prepare the artifact," Nihloras commanded.

Now would be a really good time to escape, Taren'nan told himself.

He reviewed his last remaining tricks—the sheathed dagger he couldn't reach with his bound hands, his concealed facility with the Veil. None were powerful enough to matter. He might free his hands but he'd never evade the durgen-elgar and the god's sentinels and the guards. Not without magic.

And as Maereth raised the Soul of the Font before her the reality of the situation sank in:

This is really going to happen. I have lost. I am going to lose myself.

Bitter frustration welled up in him like a stinging, sour tide. He stared at the Dalish whose lives he was trying to save. Who were these elves? Did they have any accomplishments? Anything beyond wicker craft and halla wagons? Did they have their own heroes and epics and songs? Did they at least tell stories? He hoped the younger elves loved beauty as much as their ancestors did. He hoped they honored and respected magic as their birthright. Perhaps they hated tyranny more than their forebears, perhaps they were kinder toward outsiders and the weak. These were probably futile hopes but he would cling to them. He didn't want to think he was throwing his life away. There was no other decision he could make.

They were our children, he thought as the anger faded. If any part of him remained after he was taken—he wanted it to be the part that loved, not hated.

But it was difficult to hold onto that thought. The growing weight of magic in the air made him feel muddled. There was something hungry about it, a disturbing alertness that ran like hot breath along his skin. Shadows crept across the floor and raised black spots in his vision. He blinked and shook his head. Was the ritual nearing its end? Or had they paused for something else?

"It is ready," Maereth said. "Does the vessel accept the burden?"

And he was once again aware of the other presence—the observer—its will inspected him.

Mythal's blood! I wanted more time. Why can't I have more time? But there was no point dragging it out.

"I... accept," Taren'nan said.

The magic struck him with a ringing peal, like a hammer on a colossal bell or a silver strike of lightning. In a moment too pure for thought or words the geas washed over him to brand obedience into his soul. Freedom once abdicated was not straightforward to retrieve. And his was gone.

He should relax now. There were no more decisions to make.

The binding circle at his feet surged with a sound like a waterfall's roar. The furthest reaches of the cavern brightened until daylight scraped the shadows clean. The Veil began to scream.

And then it ended.

The light died. His bonds were broken—hands and feet slipped free.

His worshipers sank to their knees.

When Fen'Harel left the Hall of Affinities a messenger met him and murmured a few words. The Dread Wolf's mind had been running down a completely different track; he did not immediately grasp what the man was saying.

"Stay a moment. She did what?" he asked.

The prisoner was gone.

If there's ever a good time to argue philosophy with a woman who can breathe fire at will, an hour after dawn is among the worst. The Iron Bull felt bleary and hungover. The tongue in his mouth was fuzzy as an Avvar caterpillar, foul as the floor of a tavern. It was the elf-wine they served around here. Exotic spices and sweet that masked a stomp like a giant's. While he wasn't especially hungry he wasn't about to turn Ilgarla away. She stole into his room without even a greeting, bearing a tray with two meals, nervously checking over her shoulder for... what, sneaky elves?

Bull dismissed the thought and gave a hearty grin. "Now that's what I call breakfast. Venison steaks! Is that mead?"

Ilgarla pulled the door shut with one hand. Only then did she begin to relax. "I am surprised one else is here. I thought your popularity had no limits."

"You mean my fans?" Bull waved a dismissive hand. "They've got better things to do this early. Besides, they only come here to gawk at the Qunari. They're too embarrassed to follow the Inquisitor around or they'd do that instead."

"I am surprised you have such an opinion," Ilgarla said. She lifted one of the plates from the tray and handed it to him. "Perhaps you are wiser than you appear."

He gave her a friendly leer as he accepted the food. "All that and muscles too."

The elf woman returned his gaze for a moment, clear-sighted and serious and a little bit irritated, but not enough to leave. Contemplative? Ilgarla? That was new. Normally she opened with a blistering series of insults. Was it related to last night's mission? Maybe this was her way of celebrating.

Ilgarla disdained the chairs scattered about the room assigned to him by the healers. She perched on the edge of the bed well out of reach. Probably, Bull thought, so she could jump to her feet at any moment. She could also avoid showing her face. He only saw her in profile—a sort of squashed elven nose, high cheekbones, ear tips partly concealed by short, rose-colored hair. He liked her better as a dragon, but he also liked challenges, so for him the day was looking up. Now he just had to figure out why she was here. It was always something.

Ilgarla balanced the plate on her knee and attacked the cut of meat with a knife. As she ate she began to glower at her food. It reminded Bull of a kitten he'd seen once. A kitten spoiling for a fight.

"Shemlen have no appreciation for time," Ilgarla muttered. The kitten swiping its claws.

"Says the immortal elf," Bull replied. She wanted to pick a fight? He would match her. "I'd say we appreciate time more than you guys. Mortality tends to focus the mind."

Ilgarla's eyes flashed as she sawed at the steak. "Immortal means one cannot die. Many things kill elvhen. Including stupidity."

"Sounds like you had a rough night," Bull said.

But Ilgarla didn't want to talk about whatever happened. She wanted to talk around it. Bull knew how that went. When things went to shit sometimes it was easier not to admit it until you were a little more prepared. Like the difference between knowing you're going to die and knowing you're going to die today.

"All right. Why don't we shemlen appreciate time?" he asked.

Ilgarla set the knife onto her plate with a metallic clunk. She swiveled to face him. "Your people look after flocks and herds and such, correct? If you had to choose between saving two rams... one that is young and looks forward to a long life. Another that is elderly and dies in a short amount of time. Which would you save?"

It was kind of early in the morning for a debate, but Qunari loved metaphors. And the steak was delicious. "You think elven lives are worth more. Because, why, you live longer? It doesn't matter as much when a shem dies because that's what shemlen do."

"Yes," she said.

Brutal. At least she was honest. And it was kind of mind blowing to discuss such things with a person who was literally older than your civilization. "I remember Solas saying that he believed in the right of all free willed people to exist. He didn't mention lifespan," Bull said.

Ilgarla looked away. "When a choice must be made—"

"Let me guess," he interrupted. "You ran into some shemlen and things went bad. You really want to draw life lessons from a crap situation? What actually happened?"

When Ilgarla spoke it was without much emotion, as though she was reciting something memorized: "Taren'nan tried to save one of the Dalish. He was captured by the enemy and he will not return. A stupid waste."

Taren'nan, Bull said to himself, trying to place the name. One of the elves on Solas' council. The one who'd hit on the Inquisitor. Some of Bull's more gossipy acquaintances had expected Solas to backhand him or something, but nothing had happened as far as Bull knew.

"That's tough. I'm sorry. He must have thought what he was doing was important," Bull said.

"You agree with his actions?" Ilgarla demanded. "I thought your Qun despises waste. Why would you sacrifice for the weak?"

Bull leaned back to stretch his muscles a bit. He flexed his calves beneath the blanket but avoided the tempting warmth of Ilgarla's backside. "It's priests who make that sort of decision. But according to the Qun the one most in need of resources is the sick man, not the healthy one."

"But the sick man will die," Ilgarla argued.

"Everyone dies. Everyone has their place under the Qun. If your hand is sick you give it medicine. Otherwise you weaken the entire body. At least that's how I understand it. It wasn't my job to worry about."

"You speak of shemlen—quickened elves—as though they are part of our body. They are not. They are not our People. My father has said—"

"Look. Solas used to bark my ear off about how glorious elven civilization was. I don't understand it, personally. In my opinion anything that brings slavery and poverty on one hand and golden riches on the other makes for two equally shitty hands. All I've seen from elves here or anywhere else is fear—people crouching in the ruins of yesterday because they're too homesick to build anything new. Maybe you need the shemlen elves. Or maybe they need you. I don't know. I'm not an elf."

Ilgarla was busy carving up her venison into tiny little pieces. "We are not afraid. We do not need them. You don't understand anything!" she exclaimed.

Yeah, she didn't like hearing this. Not that it would stop him. He was a little tired of elvhen and their superior attitudes. There were plenty of things he'd never gotten worked up enough to say to Solas but didn't mind telling Ilgarla. "The world's moved on. It's changed a lot more than you or any of the elves here appreciate. Trying to bring back the past will cause a lot more problems than simply accepting what happened and letting the Inquisitor get on with things. I thought immortals would be better at accepting change. It turns out you're worse. So much for age bringing wisdom."

Ilgarla stared at him—angry and frustrated in equal parts. Bull continued to work on his breakfast. Long moments passed.

Finally, a kind of grudging, thoughtful acceptance appeared in Ilgarla's eyes. "The statue resists the ebb and flow of the sea," she said.

Bull grinned. "You've read Koslun? You surprise me, dragon lady."

She frowned disapprovingly at the crumbs on her plate. "You have misunderstood us, Iron Bull. The followers of Fen'Harel have no desire to restore the past. If we did—if we did, he would not have brought the Anchor here. The world has changed but we are trying to make a place in it. I do not want to be worn away by the tide."

"Some of the best—"

A sound came from the hallway. Footsteps. Bull heard the Inquisitor's voice return a greeting. Ilgarla bolted upright, straight as a pike, face a mask of panic.

"Something wrong?" Bull asked.

"I—I had better—. I do not wish—." Ilgarla stopped. There were two bright spots of color in her cheeks.

Ilgarla abruptly went to the door—but not the one that led outside. The other door. She pulled the latch but instead of leading to the next room it opened onto a cupboard. That didn't stop Ilgarla. She squeezed inside—forced to crouch under a shelf—and closed the door.

Now that was weird.

"She doesn't bite," Bull called.

The woman in the cupboard didn't reply.

A moment later the Inquisitor walked into the room.

Bull straightened in his bed. Casually he stacked Ilgarla's plate with his and placed it on the bookshelf beside him.

"Boss!" he said with a wide grin. "Good to see you!"

"Good morning, Bull," Evin Lavellan replied.

The Inquisitor's smile hinted at worries he was happy not to share. Whatever she was up to required a retinue of half a dozen people. She was joined by three equally stunning ladies in pastel skirts and a pair of sentinels who moved like liquid silk. Bull assumed another pair was hidden outside, dressed in the silent armor the sneaky ones preferred. Cole was with her, too. The spirit kid wore a heavy black robe designed for someone closer in height to a Qunari. Yup, just another day in Inquisitor-land.

"How's the world ending?" he asked.

Lavellan blinked. Her face was blank but polite. "What?"

"With all the weird stuff lately I figured someone's trying to destroy the world. Or conquer it, I dunno. Something along those lines."

The Inquisitor smiled as she dragged over a chair. Was she planning to stay long? He sort of hoped she wouldn't—it couldn't be comfortable for Ilgarla in that closet. On the other hand she'd sort of brought it on herself.

Bull leaned back, resting his head against the padded headboard. "What have you figured out?"

"It seems Fen'Harel isn't the only elven god who's been busy lately," the Inquisitor said. "The rest want him dead. And us, naturally."

"No way! Solas used to get along so well with everyone. Easy-going, open-minded, no strong opinions about politics or religion. Always willing to admit he might be wrong. So that explains Skyhold, huh?"

Lavellan looked down at her hands, folded neatly in her lap. "Bull, I'd like to ask you for a favor."

And Bull started to feel nervous because Cole had come over to sit on the edge of the bed—exactly where Ilgarla had been. The spirit-thing wasn't looking at him. No, Cole was twisted half around, staring at the closet door. Cole was staring through the closet door.

Bull cleared his throat. "You're my boss, so if you say something's a favor it means you want to let me say no."

As Lavellan began to explain Bull observed that her face was more relaxed than it had been in years. Maybe the world was in danger but she'd lost the edge of anxiety and sadness she'd always carried. Easier to see now that it was gone. She looked happy.

Solas, you lucky dog, he told himself. I should write Cass. She'll be over the moon.

"The Iron Bull," Cole began. "Why is there a dragon in—"

"So! You're sending people to Skyhold?" Bull cut in.

"I'm negotiating with the elvhen," the Inquisitor said, apparently oblivious. "We need mages to cleanup the mess Andruil left. If you're feeling recovered I'd like you to go with them. Explain what happened to Cullen—tell him that I'm well. If it's just Fen'Harel he won't believe a word."

Bull sat up taller in the bed. "Wait a minute. Solas is going but not you?"

The Inquisitor's face didn't have much expression. "Apparently it's very important to the world that I remain here."

And the elves had half a dozen people with her. Listening to everything she said. A chill of foreboding ran up Bull's spine. "That's bullshit. If there's so much danger why did Solas disappear for five years? These people can't even protect you from assassins."

"I can protect myself," Lavellan said. She suddenly sounded tired—but equally determined. "They say the Mark is tied to the Veil. Ancient elven magic. You know how it goes—danger, world ending, blah whatever."

Cole rose suddenly—and walked over to the wrong door with a puzzled frown on his face. "The elves loved their world before they lost it. They're afraid to lose even more," he said.

Bull began to sweat. But honestly he was also sort of amused.

The Inquisitor's eyes followed the spirit. "In that respect the elvhen are no different than any other people in Thedas. By bringing me here they've asked for my help, in a way. I intend to give it to them."

"A very Inquisitor thing to say," Bull observed. Especially since not everyone who attracted the Inquisitor's attention ended up happy about it.

"You don't have to go if you don't want to. But you don't have to stay here," Lavellan said.

Bull forced his attention away from Cole and considered her words. Returning to Skyhold probably meant traveling through the Fade. And that meant demons, at least by association. He hated demons.

Bull grimaced. "I'll be honest, I don't think there's much I can do at Skyhold. I'd rather return to the Chargers if that's possible. The guys will have questions about what happened. They deserve answers."

Lavellan didn't look disappointed. She simply nodded. "I think I can make that happen. Asit tal-eb."

That's how it will be. When a Qunari said those words they had the driving force of an entire civilization behind them. When the Inquisitor said them... it was pretty much the same thing.

Lavellan stayed a while longer with her squad of elves. The elf ladies paid close attention to every word she said. Bull knew spies when he saw them—they were spies. And he suddenly doubted they belonged to Solas.

When the Inquisitor rose to leave Cole went to the closet door.

"Uh. Let me get it," Bull said quickly.

"Don't you want to let the cat out, The Iron Bull?" Cole asked.

"We're leaving now, Cole," the Inquisitor said.

The spirit kid gave a confused nod.

Bull waited for the Inquisitor and her retinue to depart. Even before they were gone he started having second thoughts. Did he really want to leave Lavellan with a bunch of stuck-up immortals? Would she have any companions here at all? Just Cole? Damn.

It was difficult to imagine anyone holding Lavellan captive for very long, but if this was a prison they should break out of it! Let the Inquisitor help Solas' elves the same way she helped everyone else—with an army at her back.

"You can come out now," he told the closet door.

The door rattled a bit. He carefully rose from the bed to open it for her.

Ilgarla's face was flushed and sweaty. "It was stuck," she said weakly.

"That was smooth," he said.

"I was not hiding," she insisted. "I simply... did not wish to greet the Inquisitor!"

"Sure," he said.

"Will you accept that woman's offer? Will you leave the temple?" Ilgarla asked.

Bull crossed his arms over his chest. He still ached a little, but not enough to make him regret getting out of bed. "It's not like I belong here."

"I thought you would stay," Ilgarla said, faltering a little. "I thought you would remain here to serve your Inquisitor. As I serve the Dread Wolf."

Bull eyed her a bit—wanting to point out that he'd never tried to serve his Inquisitor the way she wanted to serve her Wolf. He didn't want to put her on the defensive. "It's been a pleasure. Best dragon fight I've ever seen." And he offered his hand.

She awkwardly accepted it. "Then I should go," she said. She still seemed a little stunned.

"Didn't say you had to go," Bull said.

Ilgarla gazed down at her hand, dwarfed by his massive one. Then she looked up at him. Her expression flickered. Speculation? Inquiry.

Ilgarla brushed past him as she went to the other door. And locked it.

His heart skidded a beat. "I like where this is going," he said.

Ilgarla's eyes never left his. "You are much younger than me, Qunari. I do not know if this will work."

"It sounds like you had a rough night. If you're just looking to relax... I'm totally on board."

"Talk less," Ilgarla ordered.

He could accommodate. And when he was lying on the bed with her over him, his hands gripping her waist, he remembered something inconvenient.

"Uh. So. I'm not supposed to, um, exert myself."

Gray eyes gleamed like sunlight on silver scales. "When did I say you could move?"

Taren'nan was panicking, dancing around an inner well of lava, but outside utterly controlled.

The elvhen had fallen to their knees. Heads bowed—except for the Dalish, who didn't know what they had witnessed.

What just happened?

"Have you words for us, my lord?" Maereth asked.

Taren'nan went blank. Something was wrong. They think I'm a god. But I'm not. Am I? I would notice, wouldn't I?

"He may be disoriented," Nihloras said.

"Would you care to retire?" Maereth asked.

"...Yes?" Taren'nan said. His voice came out distorted, scratchy.

I'm still me but they think I'm a god, he told himself. They think I'm a god and I can use this to escape!

"We've prepared chambers for you," Nihloras said. "Allow me, ruan'in."

Taren'nan thought quickly. "No. You," he said, staring hard at Maereth.

The woman flushed. But she cut Nihloras out of it with obvious pleasure. "This way, my lord."

Taren'nan let his steps falter slightly as he approached her. He wanted to avoid too many words. Also gestures, facial expressions, and body language. A disoriented god, he thought. He had no real idea how to act—didn't know Anaris from Andraste. But Maereth's eyes were filled with eager lust. She had plans for this body. Did Anaris? Ew.

Maereth led him through a different corridor than the one they'd taken from his cell. Guards braced to attention as they passed. He thought he recognized where they were—closer than ever to the way out.

"I've so longed to hear you say my name, my lord," Maereth said.

"Maereth," Taren'nan said.

She sighed. "I would not presume, my lord. I wonder how much of Taren'nan is still within you. When I thought to test the Dalish for magic I did not imagine we would capture such a gift."

He thought of Anaris using his body for trysts with ex-lovers and felt repulsed. Bad enough the god had shared a bed with the Huntress. Dreamer sex was not to be sniffed at when on offer but Taren'nan drew the line at crazy.

They followed the tunnel around a curve. No other guards in sight. A few more steps—

"Then it was your idea to test the Dalish," Taren'nan murmured. "By your order they died."

Her smile broke his heart. "It was," she said.

Taren'nan drew his dagger and stabbed her in nearly the same stroke, silencing her with his hand until he was certain she would never speak again. He drew the Veil close around them, smothering her magic.

This was necessary. She was lost. You couldn't have saved her. But the blood on his hands belonged to the woman who would have borne his children.

She hadn't been innocent. Just young.

Time to warn the others.

Time to escape.

Chapter Text

If there were advantages to traveling with a Lavellan, mirrors weren't one of them. Shayd Sutherland stumbled out of the eluvian and into a cramped, dust-laden attic. The shrouded shapes of old cabinets and shelves crowded in around her, leaving barely enough room to stand. When the mirror's enchantment faded the only source of light was a tongue of greenish-blue flame floating above Lysander Lavellan's head and flickering in his eyes. Spooky but convenient magic—she'd had enough to last a lifetime.

The spymaster centered a solemn index finger on his lips, warning her to silence. Shayd followed him down a wooden staircase with treads that creaked under her feet. When her fingers touched the banister they came away with dust, but Lysander paused at each landing to listen as if he was gravely worried they'd be discovered. They exited the grand gray house through a servant's door, crossing an overgrown garden, into a quiet street of a city she knew: Val Royeaux. Only a few short hours had passed but they'd traveled hundreds of miles, faster than a dragon could fly, all the way from Skyhold. Astonishing. Disorienting.

Shayd took a deep breath to shake off the feeling. There was normal mud beneath her boots, a normal sky overhead. The warmth of early morning sunlight on her face was steadying. And instead of chattering her ear off, Lysander kept quiet. He meandered a bit in the narrow avenue, blind to the disapproving stares of masked nobility forced to make way for an elf.

When Shayd recognized their route her heart thudded with excitement. The sooner they reached the Inquisition embassy the sooner they could set the world to rights. And she wouldn't have to deal with Lysander on her own. The mage's personality had worn thinner than last year's socks. He'd never been a favorite—too deliberate with his jokes, too casual with his smiles—but now he was like a stranger. Tragedy could change a person. The past few days had taught her that. Lysander might be a mystifying, aggravating ass but she couldn't judge him too harshly. He'd given her hope—hope that Donnal and the others were alive. She could endure anything, even a twitterpated mage, if it meant seeing her husband again and the rest of Skyhold restored.

And because she was with a Lavellan—the spymaster Lavellan—there was zero waiting when they arrived at the embassy. Functionaries whisked them to the ambassador after little more than an exchange of passphrases and one of Lysander's close-lipped smirks.

Josephine Montilyet rushed into the reception room moments after they entered. "Ser Lavellan? Lady Sutherland! I am so relieved to see you! We are in dreadful need of news—but you must be exhausted from your journey."

"Thank the Maker you're here," Shayd told her. "I've had no one to talk to but this nutcase since I pulled him from a snowbank."

"Shemlen ensure all travel is messy and exhausting—like themselves." Lysander's voice crackled with sarcasm.

Shayd gave the elf a frustrated glare, which he ignored. "Charmer, isn't he? Not my fault the mirrors made me queasy." But the spymaster might have been a statue carved from dolorite. He claimed a chair and sat down, silent and uncaring, eyes fixed on nothing.

The ambassador regarded them awkwardly for a moment. Then her face assumed a heartfelt—though somewhat professional—expression of sympathy. She took the seat opposite theirs and folded her hands in her lap. "My friends, I am not certain how much you've heard. There is tragic news from Skyhold—"

"We were there," Shayd said.

Josephine went completely still. Then she leaned forward, eyes urgent and intent. "Can you tell me what happened? The reports are so contradictory! Please, anything would be helpful. Is everyone safe? How is the Inquisitor? What of Yvette and the others? And—and Blackwall?"

Shayd looked to Lysander, but the mage remained mute and distracted. If he was bored he didn't have to be so obvious about it. Shayd bit back a sigh.

She related the events of the battle—Solas' return, the blow-up at the gatehouse, strange elves shouting insults from the bridge. Everything she'd witnessed plus the details Lysander had supplied. She avoided the Wolf God nonsense for now. Describing the end was bad enough. The way the sky split open, the unholy blaze of light, the castle vanishing as if caught by an invisible hand. If she hadn't been there she wouldn't have believed a word.

Not since the destruction of Haven had the Inquisition experienced such a profound disaster. The Maker had saved the Herald then. Would He save her from Fen'Harel? What could any of them hope to do against elven magic so terrifying? They needed the Inquisitor—and this so-called god had taken her. Even if it was partly out of love, even if Solas had enemies of his own, what he'd done was unforgivable. Her husband was trapped inside!

Shayd prayed Lysander was right. There must be something they could do to help the Herald. There had to be a way for the Inquisition to fight back.

As Shayd related her story the eager expression faded from Josephine's face. The woman lowered her eyes—considering, apprehensive. "This is far worse than anything I imagined. You said Solas returned? Where is he now? Trapped with the others?"

"About Solas," Shayd began, with another glance at the mage. "Lysander has a theory. It might sound a little strange, but—"

Josephine raised her hand. "Wait. We ought to discuss this with the Divine. Matters are dangerously unsettled here in the capital. We shouldn't act without consulting her."

Yes, the Divine—Lysander had wanted that.

Except Lysander didn't seem to care. He rose from the chair and took a few aimless steps around the decorative pattern of the rug. Pacing, contemplative, with one thoughtful finger at his chin. "I will leave you now," he murmured.

"You will? You've only just arrived," Josephine said.

Lysander lifted his head. Was he startled she'd addressed him? "I must go to Dirthavaren before the Shadow claims his prize. I told this woman what I know. Whether you humans act on it is for you to decide."

"You're an equal member of the Inquisitor's council, Lysander Lavellan. Your opinion matters as much as mine," Josephine returned.

"Are you inviting me to meddle, Ambassador Montilyet? Perhaps that is not wise."

"You can't leave yet, you silly ass," Shayd cut in. "Didn't you say there was a way to save Skyhold? You can spare an hour to explain."

Lysander gazed up at the delicate moulding of the ceiling as though it was the most interesting thing in the room. "There are more important things than Tarasyl'an. The branded are what matter now," he said half under his breath.

"Surely you will have something to eat first," Josephine suggested. "We are friends here after all. And I sent for frilly cakes."

To Shayd's amazement all pretense of disinterest vanished from the mage. "Everyone says those are delicious," he muttered, obviously torn. "I keep forgetting to eat. It is disrespectful to my host."

"Excellent," the ambassador said, clapping her hands as if they were all agreed. "Let me get you something to drink."

The three fell into conversation—well, two of them did—about resources that were needed at Skyhold, the number of survivors, logistical concerns. But Shayd felt a twinge of conscience, and after a moment Lysander gave her a knowing smirk. She still hadn't quite explained about Solas....

Summoning the Divine took less time than Shayd expected—yet another advantage to traveling with a Lavellan. Refreshments arrived, Lysander stuffed his face with cake, but Shayd had barely lifted a wineglass to her lips before an armed contingent arrived outside. Moments later a robed and hooded woman strode through a pair of Orlesian doors. Just like that, Shayd was in the presence of the holiest woman on Thedas.

The Divine cast down her hood, revealing a cap of reddish hair and the flawless skin that had inspired songs throughout Orlais. She pulled gloves from her fingers with small, precise gestures, acknowledging Josephine and Shayd's greeting with a gracious nod. The Divine's attention immediately went to the spymaster.

"Is the Inquisitor alive?" Divine Victoria demanded.

"We think so," Shayd said when Lysander didn't answer. And then her mind went blank. What was the proper term of address for a Divine? Was she allowed to sit? She'd never cared a blighted whit for the formalities, but now she just felt rude.

Fortunately the Divine didn't take offense. She extended a hand to one of her aides, who produced a scroll. The Divine thrust it on the low rectangular table before them. "This is the Agreement of 944. It states that the Inquisition is dissolved upon Evin Lavellan's death. No Inquisitor, no Inquisition. You must tell me where she is."

Josephine's face darkened with sudden understanding. "The peace treaty. Tevinter. Everything we've worked for..."

"If Inquisitor Lavellan is dead our army is illegal," the Divine said. "Or so the other parties will argue. Not to mention the fallout in Orlais from this failed scheme of Celene's. The Alienages are volatile even at the best of times. Rebellions, reprisals. The sooner we produce the Duchess of Verchiel the better. Where is she?"

"The Inquisitor's been kidnapped," Shayd blurted. "Lysander thinks Solas did it."

The Divine closed her eyes for a moment—when she reopened them a cold blue fire blazed within. "Solas. The apostate returns and everything falls apart. Why now? What does he want? I never trusted him! Josephine, you were the one who—"

"Now, now, let us not argue over this," Josephine said.

The spymaster still hadn't said a word. He nibbled half a dozen tiny Orlesian desserts and moved on to a plate of candied shortbread. Did he expect her to explain everything, no matter how absurd? Blight the elf!

Shayd inwardly swore at herself. "Lysander has a theory," she began.

"Which reminds me," the Divine interrupted. "Lysander Lavellan, you've been a naughty boy. I received a letter in your cipher three days ago. There is no way you could have arrived in Val Royeaux so quickly. Either you shared your codes with someone else or your network is hopelessly compromised. So. How long have you been working for the apostate?"

A thin-lipped smile spread across the mage's face. Shayd realized, with some horror, that Lysander was amused. "Work for that flea-bitten wanderer? Why in the Abyss would I do that?"

Divine Victoria weighed the elf's expression with her eyes. "Lavellan extremism finally bares its face. Did you ever serve the Herald? Or was it always about your precious elves?"

"I would never betray my own. I have never sacrificed those who look to me for protection. Can you say the same, shemlen?" Lysander asked.

The Divine drew herself up to her full height, pale with fury. "How dare you—"

"Leliana! Lysander!" the ambassador exclaimed. "We are all allies here. Let us not lose sight of that."

"I recognize deceit when it's before me," the Divine said with narrowed eyes.

"Will you stop causing trouble?" Shayd demanded of the elf. "Lysander took us through a mirror. That's how we arrived so fast."

"An eluvian?" the Divine said incredulously. "I thought Briala lost access to them years ago. Or was that another lie?"

Lysander grinned—a brilliant flash of teeth. "You see why I did not wish to stay. As much as I enjoy accusations of treachery I must leave you now, shem'ashen. Shayd has memorized my conclusions. Ask her what you will—greater things concern me now."

"You do not have my permission to leave, Monsieur Lavellan," Divine Victoria warned.

"Nor do I need it," he replied.

Shayd was not a cowardly woman. She'd faced down darkspawn and wyverns at Donnal's side—saved him more than once. But she had the same feeling now as when she'd gazed up at the walls of Skyhold and seen a flight of dragons screaming overhead. Like the world was coming apart at the seams.

Who would have thought elves of all people—elves—had access to forces that could swallow entire cities? Every man and woman on Thedas was at the mercy of Lysander's gods. The pantheon of a people who'd been crushed like wine grapes for more than a thousand years.

The Divine was right. Lysander knew too much—everything about him was suspicious and unclear. But they had bigger things to worry about than a mage with sugar sprinkles on his fingers.

"You're right not to trust him, Most Holy," Shayd said. "But you haven't seen what I have. You weren't at Skyhold. You have to listen to us, please."

"Then tell me this theory of yours," the Divine said.

Lysander's smile was mild as milk, but his eyes were frightening in their coldness. "Your Maker does not intervene in the affairs of men. Perhaps you humans should stop interfering with elves. What did you think would happen when Fen'Harel woke and led the Inquisition to his fortress? You called her your Herald but she never belonged to you."

"Fen'Harel," Divine Victoria repeated. "We are now discussing Dalish legends."

"Just when I thought my expectations could not get lower. I will not waste my time with willful ignorance," Lysander said.

The Divine looked ready to throw the elf from the nearest window—Shayd could sympathize. But it was time to put the last card on the table.

"Solas is Fen'Harel," Shayd said. "At least, that's what Lysander believes. The woman who attacked Skyhold was the goddess Adrool." That didn't sound right—Shayd flushed. "Andruil. Anyway, I saw her myself. If she wasn't a goddess I don't know how to explain what happened. I heard the name she called him. And Solas was a strange goose, wasn't he?"

Twin expressions of disbelief, horror, and stunned realization crossed the women's faces.

"He knew too much about that orb—elven magic, he said—"

"—always had such fascinating stories—from the very distant past—"

"—village hadn't existed in thousands of years—but it did exist—"

The ambassador and the Divine fell silent. Because if Lysander's theory was correct, where did that leave them?

And then Lysander's words came to them again. Slowly, haltingly, like he forced himself to speak. "I... must go to Dirthavaren. As quickly as I can. Almost every Dalish mage on the continent will attend. The final flower of elven magic—wearing vallaslin. What god could resist? The Inquisitor will be there. She will seek her freedom at any cost, and once she is free Skyhold will follow. If you would help... keep her alive when she arrives. Send whatever forces you control."

For a while no one spoke.

Josephine was the first to recover. "If the Inquisitor was kidnapped—"

"Not even a god can fully control the Anchor, not when it awakens. I will provide sufficient provocation. I will draw her there." Lysander leaned forward in his chair, bowing his head over his hands. "The children cry out for aid. What parent could ignore them? But the People have fallen too far for a prophet to save them—that has never been our way. The young ones need a stronger symbol, a being born of this world who comprehends their suffering and despair. I will not say Fen'Harel does not care but he never found a solution. To me the answer is obvious."

"What do your fellow extremists have in mind, Lysander? A queen? An empress?" the Divine asked. "I've been in the room when such matters were discussed. Celene was not the only claimant to the Lion throne. The Inquisitor refused those offers."

"She will not have a choice."

Continent-level politics weren't really Shayd's area of expertise. Was this the sort of thing the Inquisitor's council sat around discussing all day? Andraste's mittens!

"Many have tried and failed to coerce the Inquisitor," the Divine said.

"Then I will... meddle," Lysander said, lifting his head. Violet eyes gleamed. "Behold what happens when you sacrifice another player's pawn, Vian'Evin. Dirthera ma sahlin? Ar vallem ma venavis!"

This time when Lysander swept from the room no one tried to stop him. All three women stared after him in dumb amazement.

"Poor man," Josephine said. "He must be under a great deal of stress. Should we send someone after him?"

The Divine calmly reached for her wineglass. "Don't bother. I'm having him followed."

"What about Dirthavaren? Will you send soldiers like he wants?" Shayd asked.

"The Inquisition does not obey Lysander Lavellan," the Divine said darkly.

Josephine observed Shayd's worried expression. She gave an encouraging smile. "I think our Inquisitor plays a step or two ahead of that one. Evin ordered the same thing the morning of the attack."

"Troops have already arrived from our fortress in Emprise du Lion. If the Inquisitor needs room to maneuver she'll have it," the Divine said. "I pray the Maker she is there. I don't know what Lysander is thinking. A queen won't save the elves. Does he want another Exalted March? That was not Lavellan's plan."

Shayd didn't know what the answer was—or whether one existed. How much of what Lysander said was nonsense? Was he right about Skyhold? If he was, did it mean the rest was true? She didn't know what she was hoping for anymore. Maybe she'd been a fool to believe anything he'd said. Maybe it was worth it if she got Donnal back.

"At least we have a chance," Shayd said. "If the Inquisitor makes it to the Arlathvhen she'll have our support. She can stop whatever these gods have planned. No matter which side Lysander's on."

"One can learn more from a lie than the truth. We will send a message there to warn her," the Divine said. "And that was not Lysander."

Chapter Text

Fen'Harel retreated to the heart of the temple, where the Hearth was kept. He sometimes entered there when he felt matters spin out of control—and as one revelation piled atop the other he found himself in dire need of reflection. The Dread Wolf descended by paths and passages other elvhen had forgotten, through stairways of stone shaped smooth by the will to imagine it so. In younger days there had been no gods, only Dreamers and their endless wars. Five years into another era of conflict and he could see no end. How much easier to burn everything to the ground and start anew. Oh yes, he understood the appeal.

As he walked he let his fingers brush the bare, undecorated stone. The support pillars formed a lacework that dripped from the walls. Each arch and banister cast a web of shadows onto murals as ancient and familiar as motifs copied from an elf-child's dream. The golden halla and the white woman, the bear and the wide-eyed owl, the ghastly grimacing warrior. That unfading pigment paired in his mind with others from vanished cities and ruined temples, a memory of the People that lingered in the wild heart of the Dales.

When he reached the lowest level he encountered his own work.

An unbroken fresco wound across five walls of equal length, the inner surface of a wide, central chamber. Dim stars and moons stared over landscapes of faint green and gold. Elves warred with elves. Arms lifted in repeated lines to wield swords or spells, pale orange flames erupted, and in the background the simplified form of Hellathen Viran. A winged lady, a terrible battle, an even more terrible victory. Further scenes—curves that twisted like a little halla's horns, the graceful sweep of blooming lathyrus—interrupted by a tragedy. A crowd with hands covering faces. Stooped with sorrow, opened mouths like spots of ash. Stark white and gray and black with the colors bleeding out. He remembered lifting his brush and not seeing the line it left, not caring. Perhaps the style was more expressive but the pain nipped at him like a hound testing its teeth.

Countless defeats. Scattered but decisive triumphs. Fragments from a long, long life.

When he looked at the images now he was struck by how muted they were. Compare this room to the one in Tarasyl'an Te'las—brilliant blues and reds as vivid as he could make them. Every stroke of brushwork proclaimed how fully he had lived. In those few years his heart had moved him, shaken him, fascinated him. A passion he could not give in to—except he had. A love he tried his hardest to break—but it flourished.

Evin was too forgiving to accuse him. He still felt like a jailer, one without the key to free her. That she must pay for his error was almost beyond his capacity to endure.

He could not go back to his life before. But this constraint would drive her from him as surely as if he had spurned her a second time. He could see it happening already. Not in any word or expression but in her actions, in the things she did not say. He was desperate to offer something more tangible than an apology. But he had abdicated his power. The affinities must save him now—if they felt merciful. If they accepted this agreement between his council and Evin.

What could he do but continue on this path? He had found no better solution. The Anchor was the flaw in every plan. It must remain here until all danger was eradicated.

He had thought Skyhold was safe, assumed that because he had personally touched every sleeping mind there could be no traitors. What stupidity! And Revas—in haste and anxious fear he had left the child there—to no harm, it seemed—but—what more could Evin forgive? He would have cursed at himself were he not so disgusted. When would the Dread Wolf learn? Nothing was ever simple where the Inquisitor was concerned.

Which brought him to Lavellan. Her clan had caught his interest before—they had seemed unusually competent for Dalish. Except none of them were Dalish!

Evin's quickling spymaster—vanished. Evin's elvhen father—escaped. Under maddening circumstances both. It was not strange for a god to toy with whatever playthings were at hand. For Anaris to dabble with quickling elves... that drew one's attention. What was Clan Lavellan to that one? What was he doing with the Dalish at the Font?

He would only use them as a weapon, a voice whispered.

The Lord of Malice was making plans. And the Wolf must be ready to strike.

Occupied by his thoughts, Fen'Harel drew closer to the hearth. A blaze of cyan fire nestled in a tangle of metallic runes scribed in a majestic scale. He paced from one spell to the other, examining the magic, following the gilded channels with his orb until the light changed from gold to shades of blue. The place would be as safe and solid as he could make it before he left.

He did not want to think about leaving Evin here. He would think of what came after. When he returned he would paint something new. Colors as bright as he felt when Evin's eyes smiled into his. A design as deep and intricate as her magic, chromatic and complex like a dragonfly's wings. When he returned she would have no reason to leave. They would be together. Forever.

He could not bear to imagine anything else.

A few of the junior priests peeked in while he worked, but they were not brave enough to interrupt. He began to wonder with some irritation whether he must summon one of them to determine what the affinities had decided. So it was that he had nearly finished his task by the time Varen arrived.

The former sentinel strode toward the cyan blaze of the Hearth. Varen had donned his gleaming armor but of course carried no weapon. When he reached Fen'Harel he offered a reverence. The man then folded his arms on his chest as though to make his body as solid an obstruction as possible. The cool light made his golden eyes look green as varghest scales.

Fen'Harel waited for the last rune to fade to gentle radiance before he returned the greeting. "Have the People decided? What is the result of the negotiation?" he asked.

Varen inclined his head, but his manner was grudging. "The elvhen agreed. All are eager to see the Inquisitor's supposed power in action. As she no doubt anticipated."

Fen'Harel lifted a brow. "You still do not believe in Evin's ability? You negotiated for it."

"I know what scrying is, Dread Wolf," the man said in a caustic tone. "That woman's claims are impossible, but you have not shared what you know. The Inquisitor has produced results. Somehow. I do not fault elvhen for believing the evidence before them."

The People wanted to benefit from the Anchor's power. Evin had offered them what they wanted. But that had not been the only question put to them. Fen'Harel held his breath a little. "What of the measure I proposed?"

"No one spoke against it," the man said.

"Not even you?" Fen'Harel asked.

Varen scowled—either with impatience or because Fen'Harel had misconstrued him. In that moment the former sentinel very much resembled his daughter. "It is as I told you before. A child belongs with his parents."

It had passed. Fen'Harel looked into the heart of his orb and smiled at his own relief and giddiness. Here at last was a token he could offer his vhenan. "For the first time in long memory I am contemplating a future in which I am happy. It is an unfamiliar feeling."

"Our enemies these days are individuals, not armies," Varen said.

"The advantage of initiative. The player who moves first is likely to control the game. We are fortunate the Huntress acted with such reckless haste. We are very close to finishing Anaris," Fen'Harel said.

"In the absence of armies, individuals are important. In less than a day we have lost a general and a prisoner. That woman is fortunate the affinities met when they did. If Razaran had escaped an hour earlier the agreement would not have passed."

Fortunate indeed. Dealing with the Inquisitor was enough to make one's head spin.

"What do you intend to do with her?" Varen demanded.

Fen'Harel allowed himself a self-satisfied smirk. "Nothing I intend to discuss with you."

"The Inquisitor met with a servant of the enemy. Shortly after he escaped. That does not seem suspicious to you?"

Fen'Harel let the humor fade from his face. "Is that an accusation? The sentinels saw nothing."

Varen unfolded his arms. He clenched his fists at his sides as though some part of him wished for his sword. "We know they discussed Anaris and Taren'nan—among many other things. We have no idea what she told him. How can you remain so unconcerned?"

"Evin would not harm the elvhen," Fen'Harel said.

Unless I force her to.

He was certain of it. He had seen her under every conceivable circumstance. He knew his vhenan as he knew his own heart—as he knew any leader he had scrutinized over such a length of time. As long as he did not act against her people she would not betray his trust.

"How can you have so much faith in her?" Varen asked.

Fenedhis. Was there no way to persuade the man to open his eyes? "Ask yourself this. When the Inquisition came to Mythal's Temple, when you spent your sentinels' lives to protect the sacred ground, how many did you lose to her forces?"

Varen's face went still. He had never pondered the question.

"Your people fought Corypheus' men but not the Inquisition," Fen'Harel said. "Evin held back her troops until they could secure each site in turn. She brought a team of five, all in stealth. That was not my doing."

"The Inquisitor completed the rituals without your guidance, as I recall," Varen said in a quieter voice.

"Ilgarla asked how I could love a quick-blooded woman. Let me ask you this. If your daughter, who witnessed Evin's skill and bravery first hand, could not conceive such a thing—could not imagine it—what hope is there for the rest of you? And if you cannot see her worth, why am I here? What I offer the People is not full restoration. I am not willing to pay that price. But you would find it all too easy to spend the lives of shemlen for your own. The Creators sacrificed slaves for their convenience. In what way are you different?"

Varen tipped back his head as with a new evaluation. "You brought the Inquisitor here to show them—to show us—what the quickling elves might be."

"Evin will be the bridge between our peoples," Fen'Harel said. "If that bridge does not hold, many of our people will desert me for a more satisfying answer. And Hellathen Viran will fall. We must find a way forward."

"Have you told—"

It was then the tremor started—one which Fen'Harel perceived immediately. Varen took a moment longer.

The pair exchanged glances of equal worry.

"What in Mythal's name—?" the former sentinel began.

"The Fade. I should investigate," Fen'Harel said.

Varen insisted on accompanying him, so Fen'Harel tuned down his impatience until the man joined him in the Fade.

They left the Hearth and emerged in one of the greater gardens. When they arrived they found the temple undamaged, though several other elvhen had gathered to observe the cause of the disturbance.

In the Fade-misted sky above them, distant enough for most of the details to be obscured but within easy grasp of a Dreamer, was a new isle of jagged rock. It shone in the heavens like a star. Fen'Harel knew it at once—he had seen it twice before.

White walls, heavy gates. The Vianaris.

"The work of the enemy?" Varen breathed. "Are we under attack?"

Fen'Harel began to explain... then decided it was more amusing not to. "I will go and greet her. You may as well come along."

Chapter Text

When Fen'Harel reached the Vianaris he was mystified. Evin Lavellan had rebuilt her stronghold, but there was no sign of his vhenan—and the place kept changing under his very eyes.

The walls of the Vianaris were smooth unblemished white, shaped into a perfect barrier just as he'd seen it the first time. Had Evin had restored it all—in the matter of a few minutes? A miracle. It would have defied belief were it not the work of his cunning Inquisitor. Strange was that he did not sense her presence. Varen was practically agape, lips parted in wonder, eyes darting with confusion. Fen'Harel concealed his own puzzlement behind his usual observant expression, but he felt Varen's gaze on him like a silent question. Together they passed between the gates.

"You know this place, Dread Wolf. Tell me it is not your creation," Varen said.

Fen'Harel did not reply. He was still irritated by the man's intractable suspicion of Evin. Varen was not likely to believe an explanation. Let him discover the truth with his own eyes.

Varen did not prompt him again, but gazed at the high gates, the meticulous paved walk between them, the bit of sculpture beyond like a sinuous wave.

Sculpture? Had it been there a moment ago? Fen'Harel would have sworn otherwise. But no one else was here. What had happened? There was a shallow pool of still, reflective water, a double staircase that led up to a balcony, a pair of sealed doors that concealed the inner chamber. The tiles in the courtyard... had they always been there?

Something flashed white.

Too quick for his eye to catch—without even a hint of movement—suddenly the courtyard had expanded. The little pool was twice its previous size. No mistaking that change. And there were new tiles on the ground, an elvhen pattern of repeating shapes in ivory and silver. It had happened the way things did in dreams, as though it had always been that way. But nothing altered of itself in the Fade. There must be a mind to motivate it.

Vhenan? Perhaps she was simply within the other chamber. Why did he not sense her?

"There is some mystery about this place," Varen muttered. "What has happened here?"

"I do not know," Fen'Harel admitted, but he began to smile. The Wolf enjoyed a mystery. And he thought his vhenan must somehow be behind all this.

"Neither spirit nor demon do I sense. You said you intended to greet someone. Who was it?" Varen asked.

An interesting point. Fen'Harel's surprise for him would be ruined if he could not find Evin. Fen'Harel frowned at the thought.

That flash of light—the noticeable changes around them—clearly there was some activity here. Was Evin expanding the Vianaris to some purpose? Perhaps she was operating on it from a distance. That would be impressive too. Fen'Harel walked past a series of minor puzzles, little mazes intended to deter the artless denizens of the Fade, and came to the edge of the pool.

Another flash of white.

A gallery of ritual challenges appeared—even more of them—ever more complex. The pool of water at his feet was bordered now by a casing of stone impressed with a repeating guilloché of flowers. A fountain bubbled at the center. Marble fish leapt through the spray, each mouth shaped like a perfect gilded O.

And there still was no one here. Fen'Harel resisted the urge to rest his chin in his hand. He did not wish to reveal how baffled he was to his hypercritical companion.

Unless—. If Evin had followed her usual practice when she entered the Fade, if she expanded a single instant of time into countless hours, he would not see her because she came and went too quickly. The white flash. Changes happened faster than he could perceive—because he did not experience time at the same rate.

How could he intercept her? The easiest method would be to locate her physical body outside the Fade and copy the enchantment there. But there must be another way to catch her, one that did not require backtracking in front of Varen. Hmm.

The former sentinel, meanwhile, was staring wide-eyed at the changes around them. "I sense magic I have not felt since—" His voice trailed off. "This place lies in the hand of a single mind. An archdemon? An ally of yours? Is that why it has not attacked? Why would you allow such a being here?"

"I do not believe the owner means us harm," Fen'Harel said. "Yes, I know you disagree. Give me a moment—I will try to intercede us."

"Would a demon would add a decorative fountain to a pool?" Varen wondered aloud.

The same question occurred to Fen'Harel, for he did not think Evin would expend effort on such things. Unless she was trying to make her stronghold more welcoming to visitors? No, that could not be right. He was at a loss.

Fen'Harel reviewed what he remembered of the spell Evin had used when he'd first followed her at Tarasyl'an Te'las. He thought he could reproduce it, though there might be unforeseen consequences. He did not fully understand the construct. Even if it worked there was the question of timing. He needed to catch her during one of those white flashes. Whenever the next one occurred.

And when it came... he missed.

An arbor of woven vines appeared over the central walkway. "Industrious, isn't she?" he murmured.

Varen had run out of words. He simply stood and stared.

Fen'Harel waited another few minutes—what was the timing behind these intervals? Nothing he could guess at now.

When another flash appeared he grasped for it—spell ready—and failed again.

Frustrating—but he thought he was on the right track. Besides, this technique might prove useful in the future.

This time he cloaked himself in a spell he'd learned years before for its combat applications, a speeding cantrip far less powerful than Evin's. When the flash came he had greater time to react. He pulled the enchantment over himself and Varen.

And they stood within a living garden. Golden light as from the sun shone over the flower-strewn arbor. Water babbled in the little pond, stirred by the fountain of enchanted leaping fish. The tiles of the gateway puzzles glowed in the nebulous way of the Fade.

Before them was Voth. Evin's sentinel was not facing them. The wiry man ran a hand over his bald head and stooped over the left staircase. He was applying magic to each gilded tile in turn to add a subtle design. Based on his slow progress he might have been at it for hours.

"Voth?" Varen asked, astonished. "What are you doing here?"

The sentinel fell back on his heels when he saw Fen'Harel. He scrambled to his feet. "Ruan'in! Forgive me, I did not—. Andaran atish'an."

Varen strode toward him, his face like a storm. "Then it was you who created this place, servant of Sylaise? That does not seem possible, even for a Dreamer such as you. What is your explanation?"

Voth's eyes lost focus for a moment, like he was overwhelmed by a series of conflicting emotions. The man appeared shaken, even drained. "I cannot tell you. In these last few weeks—or minutes?—there have been such wonders—. The things I've seen would make your hair grow back, falon."

"You look exhausted. Are you well?" Fen'Harel asked.

Voth blinked rather owlishly, eyes red-rimmed even in the Fade. "Forgive me. Ruan'an asked me to rest a while and so I decided to work on the garden. I did not expect to find you here."

"Ruan'an? You speak of Sylaise?" Varen asked sharply.

Voth shut his mouth with an audible click. His eyes widened in sudden apprehension. "I misspoke, honored one."

"May I see the Inquisitor? Is she within?" Fen'Harel tried.

"The Inquisitor made this place?" Varen asked. He was dumbfounded. For once Fen'Harel sympathized. He himself had been shocked when he'd come across the Vianaris—and it had not been in as grand a style as this, a mountain floating in the Fade, crafted in the space of a few heartbeats.

"All this place is hers," Voth said.

"How is that possible? Through the Anchor? What are you doing here?" Varen asked.

"I belong here. I serve her," Voth said.

"You serve... the Inquisitor? You are sworn to Sylaise!"

"The Inquisitor accepted me into her service," the sentinel said quietly.

"You betrayed your goddess—your sacred oath—to serve a child?" Varen's face was full of disbelief. "You, whom she named loyalty?"

Voth was not immune to the accusation. He folded his hands like an acolyte before his senior. When he spoke it was with pain. "It was the Huntress who broke the oath when she battled Fen'Harel. The Inquisitor gave me purpose again. Without vallaslin I could not return to the temple, for I am the last."

"You still should not have—"

"Do you understand what it is to be the last, lethallin? Do you know what it is to wake and find yourself alone?"

Varen stared at him without speaking.

"No, I did not think so," Voth said. "I believe that Sylaise, my blessed mistress, put me on this path. If she did not I pray she will forgive me. In the meantime I will serve. The Inquisitor has shown me things I never imagined, never dreamed. Such mysteries—"

"I served Mythal for countless ages after her murder," Varen interrupted. "When all hope was gone we maintained our vigil. We kept the vir'abelasan sacred year after year. And you abandoned your god for a quickling girl who stumbled on her power. I am ashamed at you."

The sentinel's face went distant and flat, as though he were looking down at Varen from somewhere high above him. "I see. You are without a mistress and Fen'Harel will not accept your oath. I pity you." Voth's tone was final, as though this concluded the conversation.

Varen opened his mouth, full of frigid outrage to continue the dispute. Fen'Harel decided to intervene before the two exchanged blows. "Is Evin within?" he asked. "I have news she will want to hear."

"She is beyond," Voth said, indicating the pair of doors on the landing above him.

Fen'Harel proceeded up the stairs. When Varen moved to follow he was barred by Voth's bony, outstretched arm.

"Am I not permitted?" Varen asked, incredulous.

"The Dread Wolf is anointed. You are not." Voth gestured to the row of ritual puzzles beginning at the entrance gate. There were quite a few of them now, and Fen'Harel had the sudden understanding Voth was responsible. "If you wish admittance you must start there. For you the door will not open until you complete the petitioner's path."

Speechless for a moment, Varen stared at the line of magical traps, then at Evin's sentinel. "You expect me to do all that? Merely to speak with your Inquisitor?"

Voth tipped back his head while a smile played about his lips. The sentinel was clearly enjoying himself. "This strikes me as justice, lethallin, a virtue your mistress loved. Do you recall how the challenges work? You must link each tile without backtracking—"

"Fenedhis! I am familiar with the concept," Varen said.

"I will wait for you inside," Fen'Harel said with a smirk.

Varen muttered something under his breath. And retreated.

The last time Fen'Harel had entered the inner chamber of the Vianaris he had found it partially submerged. No longer—Evin had restored it as she had the rest. A wide space paved with flat slate stones, like a constructed shore looking out onto the immensity of the Fade. A gallery of green crystals stood at equidistant points around the chamber, adding a muted song to the whisper and roar of the Inquisitor's magic. Water the color of pitch lapped at the edge of the terrace.

Evin stood on the shore with her back to him, gazing down at her opened palms. When he approached he saw she was standing in the water. The Abyss lapped at her bare feet.

He felt disturbed for a moment, as though he had encroached on something he was not meant to see. But when Evin turned to him she had the same tender smile he'd first seen in her arms.

"Vhenan," she said, and the crystals repeated the resonance of her voice.

"I came to tell you the affinities agreed to your pact. Is that why you rebuilt this place?" he asked.

"I needed it to answer their questions about Anaris. I couldn't delay any longer. Did you leave Varen outside?"

"Voth is keeping him busy. I imagine they will be along shortly. If they do not come to blows."

Evin's smile turned impish. "Three bald elves come to visit me? People will say I have a fetish."

"That is why I kept my eyebrows," he returned, "to help you distinguish us."

Evin stepped out of the water. The miasma of the void did not touch her, but the hem of her gown was stained black. Her face was troubled. Her eyes met his, almost like she was inspecting him.

"Is there something you wish to ask?" he said.

"The shape you wear is a disguise, isn't it? You showed me... I saw you as the Dread Wolf."

Fen'Harel felt a spike of foreboding. Had she suddenly remembered that? Did it trouble her now? "That is my true form in the Fade. Elsewhere I am as you see me, scars and all. Why, vhenan? Do you—"

"This—" Evin clutched her hand to her chest. "This is a disguise. I didn't know! I didn't realize I could bring it back so quickly, the Vianaris, but the Mark—. It's changed. How can I go back?"

"Show me," he said.

He met her a few steps from the water's edge. When he was within arm's reach, Evin dropped her mask.

The white flash. Shattering light burst forth.

Chapter Text

"Are you laughing at me?" Evin Lavellan demanded.

"No...t exactly," Fen'Harel said. A smile he was desperately trying to conceal teased at his lips.

"You're laughing!"

He was grinning, wincing at the glare of his vhenan's aura, and thanking the stars he was not in his other shape with its far sharper senses. She would have have blinded all the eyes he had, his precious star. "Chuckling, vhenan. Just a little. Accept my apology. You did not realize your appearance in the Fade?"

"What? No—" Evin's radiance dimmed a little. "Have I always been lit up like an Orlesian chandelier?"

Was that his vhenan's standard for ridiculous luminosity? Evin stood framed against the horizon of the Fade, a black sea and a sky of green mist, near enough for him to touch. His amusement had already begun to calm her distress.

"To beings of the Fade," he said, "the Anchor burns brighter than a conflagration, brilliant and alluring. Now that you have unlocked its true potential you perceive it too."

"Its true potential," she repeated.

"It is nothing you should worry about," he said. Which was true in that there were plenty of more urgent things to concern them. There was nothing she could do about it, and as for him he would continue to monitor it. The Anchor was stable now—that was what mattered.

Most of the fear had drained from her, but an undercurrent of tension remained like a metallic taste in his mouth. Evin let the energy dwindle further, frowning a little at the effort of it, and turned over the palm of her left hand as though it still held the Anchor. "I feel the Mark burning every time I use it, like it's consuming part of me. The mortal part. The Vianaris shows every life that touches mine. It's such a tangle."

"You see further than you did before before," he hazarded.

Evin bowed her head. She pressed her fingers to her temples, shutting her eyes as though to block out the light. "The old limitations are gone. Reflections of my other selves and selves I'll never be. I need time. Actual time. I need to learn how to work on another scale."

She would have all the time she needed, he told himself. There was nothing easier if she remained with him. "I want all of us to be together. I asked the elvhen—" He cut himself off, frowning at his own impatience. He wanted to ask about Revas, but it would not do to rush. There were other things to discuss first. "That can wait. Tell me how I can help."

Evin's eyes flew open. Her expression cleared. "Will you make a chair or something? I'm a little tired."

More than a little if her Dreamer's wiles could not fashion a place to sit. "Of course."

Taking his arm, Evin led him to a side chamber away from the alien shore. He had not noticed other rooms before—perhaps they were as new as the Vianaris' expanded courtyard. She had fashioned an archway and a nook like one from her library in Tarasyl'an Te'las. Veilfire flames flickered and snapped in a floor candelabra. There was a writing bench and a desk piled high with manuscripts. The black calligraphy on them wavered in the uncertainty of the Fade.

Evin noticed his gaze. "When I'm committing words to memory it helps to write them down," she said. "Voth is teaching me elven. Language, customs, courtesies. If I insult someone I want it to be on purpose."

"It would have to be. You are too clever and captivating to offend by accident," he said.

"Flatterer," she said, revealing her dimples. "I asked Voth to make a lexicon. The Dalish shouldn't be the only elves who know the old speech. A link with the ancients is important. But my first priority is to answer your Council's questions. We've begun to copy out maps of the Font for the attack."

As she spoke Fen'Harel felt the weight of time, that Evin had experienced too many of these things without him. His vhenan thought nothing of spending compressed days and weeks in the Fade. Compared to that, what was the single day she had given him in the physical world? He might not be the best person to teach her how to elide pronouns in elven, but it galled him to miss these moments of discovery.

I will not be jealous of Voth, Fen'Harel told himself.

He created a more comfortable chair as she'd requested, a simple thing of woven, burnished branches in the old style, formed of trees grown and shaped to the purpose. When he sat in it he beckoned her.

Evin smiled and took her place in his lap, linking her arms around his neck, indulging in a kiss that eased his heart. He closed his eyes and let himself forget for a moment that this was not his true form, that he would always be more than elvhen. He wanted to enjoy her warmth and nearness and the impression of her thoughts, as lively as darting fish. And after a space of time had passed he sighed to himself and asked what Varen and the others expected him to ask.

"My heart, you went to see your father. Will you tell me why? You must know he escaped his prison. Some will think you are responsible," he said.

Evin sat up straighter, pulling away from him slightly, but he did not sense in her any desire to conceal.

"I will not lie to you," Evin said.

Fen'Harel felt relieved... for three heartbeats... until the silence stretched longer and longer, a match to his growing dismay. "Then you will tell me nothing?"

He saw her face in profile. Her sunset eyes avoided his. Their color was far warmer than her expression. "I'll tell you when it's too late for anyone to interfere. I am deeply sorry."

For a heartbeat he was too shocked to do anything but stare. Then, calculating everything that had happened, he drew the only possible conclusion.

"Why would you free him? My heart, you know the one he serves! Exian—Revalas, I mean—attacked you once already. When you sought his death I thought a delay might soften you. Is that what happened? Whatever emotion you feel toward him, I beg you to weigh it against the pain I would feel if something happened to you. Please tell me what you did."

Evin slipped from his arms. She stood—they both did. Her face was distant, contemplative. "You don't trust me enough, Dread Wolf. I know the one he serves. Better than you do, it seems."

A gasping sensation came over him, like he was drowning in ice water. He was frozen throughout, from the nerveless tips of his fingers to the pit of his stomach. Had he led them to this? Was this his doing? He had made a bargain with his Inquisitor—he would not prevent her from seeking to leave Hellathen Viran—but he would not help. Here was the result. She took actions he did not understand and refused to explain. Because she thought he might interfere, and he saw now that he might have to.

He had wanted her to stay with him at the temple—because she wanted it too, because she saw the wisdom of it as he did—but she did not. She never had. She'd rejected it from the start.

And so the last few days had been a reckless fantasy. He had indulged in what he wanted and shut his eyes to reality. He had thought they might build something here together, but not if secrets tore them apart.

They were not on the same side.

"I don't want to hurt you," Evin said in a faint voice. She sounded close to tears.

His cheeks pulled into a painful grimace, as if even in the waking world his body resisted the realization. "The elvhen wanted me to lock you away behind a mirror. I refused. It may surprise you to learn I have ever hesitated to imprison others, but for me it is a last resort. I cannot bear to think what my brothers would do with the Anchor if you fell into their hands."

"I believe you're doing what you think is best," she said carefully. "Can you accept the same is true for me?"

He shook his head. "If you knew their atrocities—if you had ever faced down a god alone—you would not have released Revalas. This tells me your Sight is incomplete."

Evin offered her hands. He stared at her without accepting them for a moment too long. Frozen, unable to reach for her. Evin slowly lowered them to her sides. "Don't underestimate me. Isn't it possible I've seen more than you?" she asked. "If I spent half an age I couldn't take you through every future I've foreseen. And you couldn't tell me about everything you've done in your life if you had twice that long. There will always be things we don't know about each other. There will always be mysteries. Fasta vass—I didn't fall in love with you because it was easy."

He loved her, but she was the Inquisitor. He would never be able to control her. The elvhen were fools. There was no mirror she could not open with the Mark. No matter what he did or how he protested she would not stay.

She would not stay.

No. No—there had to be a way. If he could not see it, she might. She must. She had found a path for them before when he'd thought everything was lost. He took hold of her, grasping her forearms. She returned the gesture in confusion, an unconscious mimicry of the binding ceremony.

"Ar lath ma, vhenan," he said. "Ar lath ma. I wish we could act in accord. One mind, one heart, one flesh. As long as we are together."

"I want that too! Of course I do. I'd tell you everything if it was safe. But I—"

"What of your foresight?" he said abruptly. "Is there a method by which you could persuade me? Or the reverse? Will I always ruin your plans?"

Evin dropped her gaze—her fingers were thin and cold. A tremor ran through him, pain and fear, a shadow of loss he dreaded. "Please tell me," he said.

"There's a way." She took in a breath. "You have to swear by your Name."

"I will. I do," he said with a relieved frown. "Whatever you like."

"Don't say that until you know what it is," she said.

"Then tell me," he replied.

"To avoid the futures I'm most worried about you have to promise to release Revalas... and Lysander. No matter what happens. In exchange I'll answer your questions. And I'll show you. In the Vianaris."

He had almost stopped listening. Why not add Nihloras to the list while they were at it? How many pets did the Lord of Malice have? Two names. Why not include them all!

Fen'Harel decided—after a glance at the Inquisitor's stubborn expression—against attempting to negotiate. Her life was more important than two servants. Revalas was dangerous but manageable at present, and as for Lysander the man was a middling mage at best. They were her lethallin. Of course she cared about them.

"Clan Lavellan is fortunate in its Keeper," he said, releasing her arms. "I agree, and I swear as you request... for the space of a hundred years. I trust that is long enough. Now tell me why you released Revalas."

Evin gazed up at him like she was anticipating a specific reaction. "He doesn't serve Anaris."

When Evin related the rest of her explanation Fen'Harel was, after some consideration, horrified and appalled. His first instinct was to run out to the courtyard of the Vianaris, grab Varen by the scruff, and set him to hauling in every former or suspected servant of the Keeper of Secrets he could find.

Fen'Harel had thought with the Huntress defeated most of the danger had passed, that Anaris was the only active threat. The fractures that had weakened Andruil's prison had spread further than he'd thought. Even to the Twins.

Everything crumbled, even the best of intentions weakened after a score of ages, and now came the price. There was more to do, more road to travel, but at the end of it he would not be alone. Evin had bought him time with her plots. She had even thought of Taren'nan. If the man could not be saved, at least he had a chance and a choice. Thanks to his beloved.

Fen'Harel had returned with Evin to the viewing chamber. She'd shown him images of the future, illusions painted on the horizon of the Fade. Flashes of faces and words. And he had agreed—she did not come to harm. The Veil remained. His brother seemed to think of her as a child or a pet, not a threat one should take seriously.

Many had made the same mistake. It amused Fen'Harel to think the so-called God of Knowledge would as well. A backhand from the Dread Wolf's mate—that was a fitting welcome to the world.

"And so you will go to the Arlathvhen," Fen'Harel said. "Where Lysander lies in wait. You said I must 'release' him. Will you allow me to kill him if he has a chance to run away? Surely the world is better off without that one's plots."

"You must act as you see fit. In accordance with your promise," Evin said.

He stifled a groan of frustration, but Evin's eyes were sparkling as though she was excited about what was to come. "This is the path. The best path. You've seen that I return. First I have to do what I can for the Dalish. I won't give them up without a fight. I won't leave the Inquisition in a shambles."

He wished he could share her confidence. But he had too much knowledge of the world and too much experience with plans that went awry. "Do not trust entirely to your foresight. Even a soldier who returns home from a battle returns changed. Do not trust that one. He has too many secrets, and the most dangerous thing you can do is lose your fear. The worst betrayals come from those we do not doubt. I would not have you learn that lesson as I did."

Evin agreed to be wary, but Fen'Harel decided he would position an eluvian in range of Dirthavaren just in case. Two, perhaps, because it never hurt to be prepared. And she must have a fitting escort. Secrecy would not be as important in the coming days.

He had many things to make ready.

"And so you will go to Skyhold with the Dreamers I requested," Evin continued. "And then to Brecilia?"

"You ask as if you have not seen it. It is disconcerting to know my own actions and words in advance. I'm not certain I like it," he said.

"You get used to it," she said airily.

"You do, perhaps," he said.

Her expression softened. "I like knowing how soon you'll come back. Last time I had to wait a very long time."

He would repay each of those years tenfold—ten years of joy for each one of sorrow—he promised himself. "Listen to me, my heart. There is something else I came to tell you. When I return from Tarasyl'an Te'las I would like to bring Revas with me. The elvhen have agreed to it, but I will not take that step without your permission. I would like us to live as a family. Whether it is there or here. Whatever comes, we will be together."

"I didn't hope for that this soon," Evin said in a hesitant voice.

"Does that future exist, one where all three of us are together? If there is danger—"

"I didn't say that," she said, and this time her eyes shone. "It's not impossible. But I can't do it alone."

He offered his hand again. "Good. Because you are not alone."

Only a short time later the doors behind them opened. Two exhausted-looking elvhen staggered through.

Evin clapped her hands together. "Ah. My first petitioner!"

"You are far too delighted, vhenan. Most petitioners are annoying creatures who ask for wisdom and reject whatever portions they disagree with," Fen'Harel said.

"Varen needed a little help," Voth explained.

Varen pushed away from Voth and straightened up. It was clear the former sentinel was exhausted by his efforts. He performed a brief reverence before Fen'Harel and an even briefer one for the Inquisitor. He lifted his chin and peered at the sentinel beside him like a man inspecting an item of food he disliked. "I did not need your assistance. I would have figured out the last challenge on my own."

"Eventually, perhaps. I was tired of watching you struggle," Voth said.

"I did not ask you to stay," Varen's voice grated.

"I'm not sure what happens next," Evin said. "Does one answer prayers? Elven gods don't seem to do much of that, so I'm not sure why I would. Do you need anyone judged? Or inquisited?"

Varen's eyes flared with triumph—and something else. Hidden knowledge. The man had served Mythal for uncounted years. What did he suspect?

"My petition," the elvhen said. "I want the truth. Your farsight. Show me."

Evin met Varen's eyes with a cool, unblinking smile. "I would be happy to give a demonstration, honored one. Would you like to see the Font?"

Chapter Text

The Dalish came to Dirthavaren a clan at a time. In daylight their aravels crawled across the boulder-strewn plains, visible from a distance like a slow procession of painted beetles. In the evening the campfires spread beneath the night sky like a carpet of rival stars. But the Veil was filled with howling and the regrets of the uneasy dead, for the humans had warred there and killed each other until the Fade itself grew heavy. Even now, years later, it echoed with the dying cries of warriors. If Andraste heard them she did not answer, nor did the Maker quiet them. The Dalish had brought their own gods, placing statues around their camps—gentle Sylaise and horned June, Ghilan'nain and Fen'Harel. At this invitation it was not surprising that a god walked among them.

Hooded, cloaked, the god kept to the shadows where the light of the fires did not reach. Sentries did not challenge him. Wards did not wake at his approach. A restless lynx paced at his side.

He paused outside each ring of light to study the faces of the quickened elves. Perhaps he loved them in his way—he would have answered yes if asked—but he loved secrets more. He plundered their minds with as little conscience as a pickpocket. Legends, lies, and sacred oaths. Jealousies and grudges petty as a midge's bite. He found fear and contempt of outsiders, love and kindness for kin, and precious little empathy for any other race. He found them absurdly proud of their scant knowledge and admirably hungry for more.

The god did not find, as had the Dread Wolf, a barbaric counterfeit of true elvhen. No, if the Dread Wolf had found the shemlin wanting it was because he had been born in a more sophisticated age. Fen'Harel, for all his rebellious ways, could not bear the loss of the civilization he had railed against.

His expectations were not as high as the exacting, idealistic Wolf's, nor did Dalish customs trouble him. He liked much of what he saw. They treated clan as family; none went hungry unless all did. They did not hoard the relics that remained to them. Their leaders were mages and elders respected for their learning. As for the crudeness of their crafts, how could it disappoint him? He had stood beside Sylaise when she taught the People to kindle fire. He remembered June's first copper axe.

The People needed the Creators. Look how far they had fallen without them.

And so he walked among them, taking their measure, for he wanted to be sure of his reception and he didn't have much time. He had always been the disciplined one, the one who acted out of wisdom, who took scrupulous care.

Hadn't he?

A moment of doubt—a flutter of confusion—he felt bewildered and strange. What am I thinking? Those aren't my memories.

The god crushed it.

They were one again. The doubt disappeared.

As he passed another aravel he heard the sound of sickness—a woman coughing—and he paused, letting the bulk of the landship conceal him in its shadow. Beside him the lynx sank to its haunches. He reached out to stroke its head with soothing thoughts.

An elderly woman sat before a campfire. A much younger man with pale hair knelt to spread a blanket on her lap. Across from them stood another elder. All three wore what they thought of as finery—leather picked out with studs of metal, ironbark ornaments, cambric embroidered with leaves and vines.

"Are you sure you won't attend the hahren'al? I was hoping for your support," the older man said.

The younger looked up from his task. "Do not tempt her, Keeper Hawen. Keeper Elindra is far too sick."

The aged woman gave him a kind but tired smile. "You worry too much, Cillian. Falon'Din will guide me when it is my time. Not before." But her voice was hardly a whisper.

"Don't speak of such things," the younger man protested.

The woman coughed again, a deep and tearing sound. Fluid had gathered in her lungs. In his day sickness had never touched the elvhen, but that was the god's memory, not Lysander's. It was fascinating to recall things he didn't know. Just as it was fascinating to watch himself raise his hand in a bored gesture and clear the sickness from the woman's chest.

Stop thinking so much, the god thought. His irritation was tangible.

Oh! Sorry, Lysander replied. And he did his best to minimize himself, lapsing into passive observation as the god preferred.

"I will not say the hahren'al is a waste of time," Hawen continued, "but last night we spent two hours arguing about toast. And that was before Clan Ghilain arrived. I once told their storyteller the sky was blue. She demanded proof."

"That's because you never admit you're wrong," Elindra said in a stronger voice. "Are you saying you did not discuss the vallaslin?"

"And derail the toast discussion? I didn't dare." Hawen stroked his chin in thought. "It's a hard thing to contradict ages of tradition with a dozen clans ready to call you a shem-loving liar. I wonder at you and Keeper Evin. Maybe they're right. Why shouldn't we keep the old ways? What harm is there in honoring the Creators with the vallaslin?"

"I don't consider slavery an honor," Cillian said, revealing his lack of sense, an alien point of view the god detested.

Elindra gave a prim declination of her head. "We have a duty to the truth. Evin said that, and I agree."

The god observed that none of the three wore vallaslin, but all of them formerly had. The Dalish might carve vallaslin on their faces as they pleased but they had no intermediary to speak for them. Did they think the Creators accepted just anyone to their service? Wretched children.

They would learn.

What of the Inquisitor? he asked them silently.

"Have you heard anything of Keeper Evin?" Hawen said.

"Dark rumors. Stories I do not care to repeat after sundown. I hope they are not true," Cillian replied.

"My First went to speak with the Inquisition scouts," Elindra said. "Why don't you go find her, da'len? I know you are worried."

"That can wait. I'll stay to look after you, Keeper," Cillian said.

"I'm feeling better," Elindra said, patting his hand. "Besides, I wish to speak with Keeper Hawen about the things we found in the Wilds. You've already heard those tales."

The younger elf built up the campfire before he left. Once he was gone the two Keepers fell into a conversation about the Temple of Mythal, where Clan Ralaferin had most recently been encamped. The god stayed long enough to pilfer the location of the hahren'al from their minds, then left, following Cillian. After a grudging moment of hesitation the lynx followed.

"Why so impatient, spirit?" the elvhen asked.

The lynx padded silently beside him. It neither looked at him nor away. "Release me," Guile said.

"You cannot return to her. Not yet."

"I will not ever return," Guile said.

"You will. Soon."

The lynx's unhappiness was obvious, yet it didn't try to leave his side. The man smiled at it, satisfied with sullen obedience, and followed a bare track through the plains. Cillian strode somewhere ahead, too far away to see in the darkness. At some point Cillian turned off the path, but the god continued without caring, because he already knew everything the Inquisition did.

What the Inquisitor knew was less clear. How much had she lucked into and how much was the product of a mortal's imperfect foresight? Impossible to tell, even for him.

He thought of the others he had tested. A litany of faces, some with names still known to history: Garahel, who was tainted. Ameridan, who had fled into a crevice of time. A thousand years of failure. How much longer must he wait? How many bright ones must he feed to a kiln of failed hopes? What did he care about them or even the Dalish as long as he was alone? Divided from himself!

The god's lips parted and drew tight over his teeth. He gasped in anguish and ferment while his heart pounded like a fist in his chest. He felt the muscles of Lysander's body strain against their tendons.

The lynx hissed its unhappiness. Lysander fell very quiet.

The god forced himself to calm. He would not fall into despair. His twin, his shadow, the other half of his soul—he mattered. No one else.

Evin was not properly prepared. The Wolf had saved her too many times. But if she broke he would find another. There was always another. He had heard of an elf in the north with white vallaslin. Perhaps that one. Perhaps Evin's son.

If she failed the Wolf would be furious, and that would be amusing, a small bite of revenge. He must arrange a fitting reception.

Evin had challenged him. None of the others had done that. He hoped she would enjoy his response.

All the hahren met in the hollow of a rock pile to the west of the other camps. The site was protected from the wind on three sides where a natural chimney guided the smoke of an enormous campfire up to the stars. Each hahren sat ensconced in their own place—a woven blanket, a pile of pillows stuffed with straw—adorned in their finest clothes for the purpose of defeating their peers with their wisdom and mastery of lore. Or, when that failed, by shouting them down.

Overhead the constellation Eluvia had lately appeared with the coming of spring. At the second hour past sunset the constellation's third star announced the opening of the Arlathvhen.

Or perhaps it was the first star. Opinions differed. As did the shouting.

The god paused outside the meeting place to listen to the elders. After a while he realized there would be no lull in the discussion, no break in the debate. He would have to grab their attention the old-fashioned way, by making a louder noise. Gone were the days when he could issue a command and find his faithful priests reverent and ready. He hoped Evin would appreciate the effort.

He cast down his hood and folded his hands in his sleeves. The lynx gazed up at him, watching his silent preparations with equal silence. He stepped forward into the circle.

A few hunters near the entrance watched him pass. Eyes glowered at his lack of vallaslin. And then he heard a voice murmur, "Lavellan." Another voice: "Inquisition."

The murmurs spread like the light of a candle dispelling a minor bit of darkness: ignorance. Except they were spreading more ignorance. He was not Lysander. He wore a body that was not his, one he'd repaired and cured of Blight.

Lysander did not exist.

You do not exist, puppet, he told the one inside him. And laughed at the man's agitated response.

The god strode forward, doused the enormous fire with a gesture, and restored it with a thought—cold, flickering veilfire far brighter than before with a sound like cracking ice. The amber light on their vallaslin-marked faces vanished. Eyes dazzled, they looked away.

When they looked back, they saw the man they thought was Lysander with a spirit at his side, flanked by two varterrals. Creatures of twisted wood and smoke—tall as trees bound to his will—wrested from the war-pocked ground and given life.

"Creators," someone cursed.

"Lavellan!" another called. "Did the Inquisitor send you? Explain yourself, da'len!"

"Not like that," the god said. "You must address me properly, shemlin. Call me ruan'in."

"Highest One?" The man's face was a rictus of astonishment. "Who do you think you are?"

"You wear my brother's vallaslin. You aren't permitted to argue," the god snapped. "Kneel. All of you—kneel."

The questioner had been sitting. He came to his knees, as did every Dalish present, falling forward or rising from their seats like grain swept by a scythe. Surprise, then fear, then horror and disbelief dawned on their faces.

"Fen'Harel locked me away. Yes, my body is still in his prison. I speak to you through the mouth of a believer. I come to you now because the Dread Wolf is no longer content with his prison. He killed the All-Mother, he killed the Huntress, he stole away your Inquisitor. I am sure I will be next unless we defeat him, lethallin."

"Skyhold—we heard such tales of Skyhold—" someone said.

"This is the answer to your prayers, is it not?" he asked the elders. "Your gods have returned. Just as you always wanted. As for me, I will answer any question put to me in the proper form. But know this—I will answer either with the truth or with death. Ask carefully."

"Blood magic! Fraud! It can't be true!" a voice cried.

It was not a question. The god lifted his hand. One of the varterrals bowed, extending a tangled limb to let him climb up. "Do not fear," he said, addressing the others. "You need not kneel forever. The magic will cease when you call on my Name. There were only nine Creators. You will learn."

Perhaps they were too afraid, struck dumb with terror. He thought no one would stop him. But a small, dark-haired woman surged to her feet almost instantly. She ran forward, peering up at him with no fear of the varterral, only a desperate desire to know. "Wait! Where are you going? Ruan'in, where are you going?"

He gazed down at her with an affectionate smile. "I will raise a fortress at Unadin, a little way to the east. You will find me there, Merrill."

A while later, as the god stood outside the grotto, he found himself in thought. "The trouble with precognition is that threats are never enough. One must actually wield the blade," he told his audience. "I wonder how many I will have to kill before Evin comes out to play."

He threaded magic through the war-torn Veil to construct his stronghold. And as the blocks of stone assembled themselves Dirthamen wondered—what would foresight would feel like when he read it from her mind?

Chapter Text

Taren'nan had a problem he didn't know how to solve. He hurried through the crumbling, moss-strewn halls of the Brecilian Font, and everywhere he went the people bowed to him and lowered their eyes. He was positive at any moment someone would jump up and shout, "Impostor!", but they never did. They just bowed and cringed and looked away. And since all of them thought he was a god in his place of power… he couldn't exactly ask for directions. He'd started out with a great deal of vim, intent on making his escape, but now he was pretty certain he'd passed the same blighted archway three times. He was hopelessly lost.

Wolf guide me, he prayed—he thought a prayer couldn't hurt.

He reached an intersection of passages that now loomed large in his list of lifelong enemies. He was positive he'd tried every branching already. He shook his head and tried to shake away the sickening feeling of failure that had eaten up every bit of exhilaration from his mysterious reprieve. If only he hadn't used what little magic he had patching up his personal defenses. That might have been a fatal mistake. Too late to regret it now.

Footsteps. Behind him in the hallway.

Taren'nan ducked into one of the side passages. He'd been lucky so far that he'd only encountered low-ranking guards and servants, quick-children and the like. If a sentinel should find him, or Creators forbid a priest—they would know at once he was a fraud. He had zero confidence in his ability to fool Anaris' followers again. Perhaps the wisest thing would be to retreat somewhere. He could find a place of shadows and hide until darkness fell. That would be—strangely reassuring—

No. No, he told himself, I must escape. Do not trust any thought that counsels otherwise.

The footsteps were growing louder. Taren'nan pressed his fingertips to his lips in an agony of tension. But a god wouldn't do that! He tore his hand away and assumed a posture of appropriate hauteur—awaiting whomever or whatever approached.

After a few moments the slight figure of a servant appeared under the dim light of the few torches. One of the Dalish pressed to service. The youth—male or female, no idea—bore a heavy sack that seemed destined for the kitchens. He? She—turned down one of the passages.

Taren'nan sighed silently and watched her leave.

If only—. Wait.

Gods didn't spend any time in kitchens. Especially gods like Anaris. It was practically an axiom. None of the staff there would know him. He could say he was the Arishok and they wouldn't contradict him. The kitchen workers would only see a fearsome figure who could commandeer any of them and demand to be led somewhere else. Who were they to question the whim of a noble?

Taren'nan set off after the servant.

It occurred to him as he proceeded that the girl might be leading him to a storeroom or something of that kind, but after reviewing his plan he didn't think it made a difference. He just needed to find someone he could guarantee had never seen him before—someone with no idea whom he was supposed to be. And the further he walked, the longer he went without passing any guards, the more certain he became he had come to the right place.

The air in the passageway grew warmer—and full of the aroma of roasting meat. His empty belly began to growl. Kitchens, definitely kitchens. He followed along as quietly as his skill and his stomach permitted. When the servant lass ducked through a door he waited a few moments before joining her inside.

As the door opened a wave of heat struck his face like he had walked through the opening of a furnace. The hot glow of flames was bright in the room—birds turning on spits, stews bubbling in crocks. The few figures present were shadowed by the light behind them. He had only a second to get his bearings before a voice cried out a filthy provincial curse and flung him to the ground.

A rod of magic met his throat.

"You shouldn't have come here, Vessel," Felassan hissed. And activated a killing spell.

The elvhen of Hellathen Viran gathered to watch their god depart. Shaded from the sun by overhanging branches and the delicate spans of foot bridges, the crowd spilled out across much of the stone-paved road. Although the air was fresh and full of the promise of green things there was not much breeze. Orange and yellow pennants drooped from balconies and balustrades, but the sun had some warmth to it. Spring had deepened already.

Evin Lavellan arrived with her ladies to catch Fen'Harel before he left. In these last few moments they had together she felt there were too many things to remember and say and do. Would they ever have time to be themselves?

Last night they had dined among the elvhen—a banquet, he called it—and slipped away after opening the dance. They'd spent the evening in his rooms, a novelty of quiet without the interruptions an Inquisitor or a Dread Wolf expected even in the best of times. She'd claimed a space beside his cluttered desk and practiced with the Mark while he rebuilt his personal barriers one spell at a time. After a while she'd stopped and simply watched him. Opening her senses to each layered enchantment like a whispering vibration, she'd fallen asleep—waking only when he insisted on carrying her to bed. And then she hadn't wanted morning to come, but stared up at the overlapping bands of color until they seemed to breathe and sigh of their own accord under the low and flickering lamps.

When she tried to rest, dreams and images of possible futures slipped before her eyes. She rolled onto her side, shivering, trying to drive them from her mind.

"You too are unable to sleep," Fen'Harel said.

His voice surprised her—part of her had forgotten he was there, assumed she was alone. She was still used to being alone. "I thought I saw myself," she said slowly.

"What did you see?"

She opened her mouth, then gave a wry shake of her head. "It's silly."

"Then I want to hear it even more." She heard the smile in his voice. And the concern.

Evin wrapped her arms around her chest. "I feel strange. I thought I saw myself holding a baby. A little girl. Please don't make any weird assumptions—"

But of course he already had. Fen'Harel abruptly sat up in the bed. He stole one of her hands—his long, fine fingers were far warmer than hers. "Our child? Evin, are you saying—"

"No—I don't know. It couldn't be, not with the attack and the poison and—and it takes weeks to know and even then it wouldn't be certain." She stared at his fingers curled around hers. "I'm unsettling you. I should have let you sleep."

"And let you worry alone? Never, never try to spare me," he said.

"That awful tea they bring me in the morning," she said, meeting his eyes. "It's a preventative, isn't it? I don't know what I'm thinking of."

Fen'Harel weighed her expression. "Long ago such things were known to sometimes fail, when two elvhen loved each other and welcomed a child as a gift. We should be open to the possibility."

Evin began to nod as though she understood, but she recalled his words of a moment ago: Never try to spare me.

She searched his face. "I'm not going to have a baby. Someday, maybe. Not now. But if it were to happen... you couldn't be the child's father. Could you? You said no one could know about Revas, not even your elvhen. The only reason I would ever hurt you is to keep him safe—"

"Whatever happens we will devise a solution together. I have faith in us, vhenan," he said in his rich but even voice. "We are both very clever."

"Trickster." And she smiled.

"All this talk of babies, but there is a necessary precondition—"

At that she'd laughed and let him draw her into his arms. But now, as she watched the elvhen assemble by the temple's entrance, as the morning sunlight warmed her cheeks and pierced her eyes, she felt the weight of secrecy that would follow Revas all his life. Even if Fen'Harel's people accepted her they couldn't know about their child. And the Dalish remained in terror of the Dread Wolf. Her people would never welcome the god they called the Great Betrayer. No matter how much he loved her.

She didn't want Revas to grow up without knowing the truth about his father. She didn't want him to ever use the Dread Wolf's name as a curse.

And so she was going to reach for the future she wanted, a very particular branch. It was possible she would fail. Likely, even. Lysander had given her no more time to appease the elvhen. Would she leave them offended and afraid, perhaps enemies? So be it. When Fen'Harel departed so would she.

If this was a game of gods she had already placed her pieces on the board: foresight, the Mark, the Inquisition. But she wasn't playing alone anymore. Maker, she wasn't alone. Just watch us, Meddler. You haven't seen anything yet.

When Surahn stepped forward to issue the benediction Evin understood the words of elven and something of their weight. Fen'Harel bowed his head to acknowledge them, dressed as he was in his traveling clothes, a stitched tunic and a cloak, surrounded by the Dreamers and mages who'd agreed to travel to Skyhold. As they gathered up their packs Evin approached each one to offer her gratitude and thanks.

After the blessing was concluded Fen'Harel joined her at the temple doors, just past the view of the crowd.

"Have you seen Ilgarla?" Fen'Harel asked. "Varen refused to say what has become of her."

Evin nodded significantly and Fen'Harel followed her eyes. The irritable sentinel stood beside Bull, a little distance from the other elvhen who intended to journey to Skyhold.

"I understand they mean to accompany you," Evin said.

"Both of them?" Fen'Harel asked. He gave the pair a double-take. "They are... together?"

"Don't look so shocked," she murmured.

"Not shocked but... surprised. Perhaps a bit relieved," he said. "I may have misjudged her."

"I doubt Ilgarla would take it well if you made any remarks whatsoever."

"I will defer to your wisdom, vhenan." But the Dread Wolf couldn't help staring a little at the couple—and his eyes had something of a gratified gleam.

Evin braced herself to say goodbye without making herself ridiculous with tears in front of the elvhen. She wanted to put serious thoughts aside and think of brighter things.

She lifted her chin and squarely met his eyes. "Don't let Revas wear his purple shoes. They're too small for him. In case he asks. Or yells."

"I will remember," he said with a delightful and somewhat relieved quirk to his mouth.

"He can be very insistent," she warned. "Sometimes I wonder if there's a Demon of Obstinance in my family tree. I wouldn't want the Dread Wolf to lose an argument with a three-year-old. Maker knows I have."

"It would be a novel experience," he admitted. His expression didn't exactly change, but something darkened behind his eyes, a degree of hesitance. "I do not have any experience with three-year-olds. You know that I would never forgive myself if—"

"All will be well. There's something I'd like you to give him," Evin said. She fished in the pocket of her gown.

Fen'Harel accepted a small, worn volume of poetry. He scanned the hand-lettered cover, the worn binding, the corners darkened with age. He must recognize it—he'd ensured it had accompanied her from Skyhold.

His slate eyes gave her a questioning, amused glance. "A challenging read for a little one."

"Revas calls it my storybook. He likes me to tell him stories while he looks at the illuminations. If he sees it he'll know I sent you."

His face was solemn—with careful eyes. "I will do my best. You are not worried?"

"I don't really worry," she said. "I just constantly review the things I need to do."

"This is not a true parting. I will look for you in the Fade when I can. If you were not so hasty even in your Dreams it would be easier to catch you. At least with your Vianaris I know where to start."

"Speaking of that," she said brightly. "Cole thought I should give you a present."

She plucked a small white flower from the cluster at her wrist. Each of the five petals was chased with silver. She frowned over it, infusing it with fresh mana, and offered it to him with a somewhat embarrassed smile. She knew it lacked the elegance of most elvhen enchantments. "I made this for you."

"A gift to match the giver," he said, giving her a pleased but startled look. His brows lifted in puzzlement. "I do not recognize the spell."

"It's matched to my heartbeat. Like a key. The flower will pulse when I'm in the Fade. I want you to be able to find me no matter where or when. It may surprise you how much time I spend there," she added. Why did she suddenly feel so shy?

He gave her a look as if to say he seriously doubted she would ever surprise him in use of the Fade. And there he was probably right. He carefully placed the flower inside the collar of his tunic. "I wish I'd prepared something for you. Perhaps when I return."

He was leaving to restore Skyhold, and he would return with her son. What more did he think he could give her? For a moment she couldn't speak—it was better not to cry. She didn't want him to think he'd made her sad.

It was time. He wasn't going to kiss her. There were too many people watching them and too much crowd to disrupt the pageantry of his departure. She didn't think she could bear to watch him leave.

Fen'Harel's lips parted, but in that moment an expression of pain touched his features. He gave her a quick and searching glance. "I wish—. I'm sorry. I have never been able to say goodbye to you."

"Then we won't start now, wise Wolf," she said. "Return safely from your journey."

She stood and watched as long as she could, and when it was too much she shifted her eyes to the cloudless sky, listening to the murmur of voices in conversation.

The other elvhen gradually left the grounds. After a while her ladies approached her.

"It is early yet for the day, ruan'asha. What would you like to do next? Archery? Dancing?"

"If you would send for Voth," she said.

Time to go.

The spell shattered against Taren'nan's barrier. He struck back, catching Felassan's staff with the hilt of his dagger and forcing it away. Then he grabbed hold of the Veil and yanked, disrupting whatever magic the other man might have planned.

"What are you doing? It's me, you idiot!" Taren'nan exclaimed.

"Geldauran's tits. I guess it is," Felassan said. The other man sounded a bit dazed. He swiped his sweating face with his sleeve and took two steps back. But his staff was still at hand and his eyes were narrow with calculation.

Taren'nan was panting heavily from his efforts, relieved to see his companion but not quite willing to loose his grip on the Veil. "Why are you still here? Where are the others? I told you not to come after me—"

"I didn't. No reason to waste a perfectly good infiltration just because someone got captured." Felassan's violet eyes were significantly cooler than the rest of the kitchen. He jerked his chin at one of the servants and said something in pidgin elven that Taren'nan couldn't quite make out. "Now tell me what you're doing here," Felassan said.

"I was looking for a way out. I hoped someone in here would show me."

Felassan shrugged a bit. "Explain what happened first. I thought you were a goner."

Taren'nan recounted everything from the events of his capture—since he had no idea what Felassan had witnessed—to the ritual itself. When he reached this part of his tale the other man leaned forward, eyes fixed with the weight of close attention.

"As for the elves here—they're more likely to slit your throat than take the risk of helping you," Felassan said. "And as far as you know the geas succeeded. It's quite possible you got lost because you don't actually want to leave. You'll probably never find the way out on your own. "

A dreadful chill danced up Taren'nan's spine. "Can you not tell me such horrifying things until we're back at the temple? If there's a geas someone there can break it. Perhaps I can do it myself where the Veil is weak. Please, let's not waste another second. I've no idea what Anaris is waiting for but I really don't want to find out his favorite sexual positions."

At that Felassan's smirk turned slightly rueful. "I wish I could help you, lethallin... but those are not my orders."

"Ah, yes. Your orders." Taren'nan fought down his panic, his sense of outrage. "And what's more important than helping Anaris' vessel escape?"

"Oh, just a little clean up the Dread Wolf asked me to take care of. Something he wants done before the mighty warriors come charging in," the man replied. "I'm going to kill the Huntress. And you're going to help."

Chapter Text

Voth's face was colorless and gloomy as he gathered up a spare set of clothes and shoved them into a canvas pack. "I'll leave this by the stairs. You should bring a staff, ruan'asha."

"I'll borrow one of Fen'Harel's. I promise he won't mind," Evin replied with a smile. Adaria and Merhad had gone to fetch luncheon. Evin felt shivery with impatience, but the delay gave them a few extra moments to prepare. She was determined to escape before her chance disappeared, but she had to appear calm to the other elvhen.

"Inquisitor, I wish you'd let me help," Voth said.

"I can't take you with me," Evin said. "It's too dangerous. But thank you for offering."

"You shouldn't do this alone."

"I'm not," she said. Don't worry for me, faithful one, she added silently.

"Ruan'an," he said softly.

Then Voth closed the flap of the pack and tugged the straps over his shoulders. Before he left he bowed. And Evin was left with her plans. The Inner Sanctum, without Fen'Harel to guide her....

"You won't be alone, even when you sleep. Your love won't end," Cole said.

Evin's mouth opened with a silent, painful gasp.

How had she forgotten he was here? Cole was tucked in among the urns of flowers in his unobtrusive way, his tall rounded hat barely visible among the blooms. After a stunned moment of silence Evin met the spirit's eyes. "You always know the right thing to say."

"Yes, we're similar that way," the spirit said, terribly earnest. "I help people one at a time but you help them all at once. Not the inner pains but the outer ones. You want to remake the world, make it better, not for yourself but for them. That's why I'm here. What we want is the same."

"Yes," she said. "And that's why I can't stay."

Evin padded over to the door, silent on silken slippers. She listened, counting heartbeats as she waited, matching herself to each possible future by the sound of the footsteps she heard.

When she peeked outside a figure was just disappearing around the corner to the right. She broke the opposite way, striding quickly toward the atrium that led to the temple stair. She paused when she reached it—waiting beside a pillar until a conversation ended—pretending to study a painted spray of roses.

Almost there, she told herself.

She hadn't used any magic yet. Nothing that would attract a sentinel's attention. And in a moment or so the ones who guarded the temple would be distracted. Just long enough for her to slip by.

And then—the final door. The one she wouldn't think about just now.


Fenedhis. It had to be this branch!

Evin carefully composed her expression into a welcoming smile. "Adaria!"

The woman hurried up to Evin with skirts rustling of satin. Evin didn't explain her presence. An explanation would have been suspicious.

"I am sorry, ruan'asha. I should not have left you so long. I've sworn I will not fail you again," Adaria said.

"It's no trouble," Evin lied.

"I apologize for the delay. But you see, my daughter did not sleep last night. I—I wonder if you might meet with her."

The Vianaris had revealed this branch. Evin knew the words to use. She'd memorized the perfect, slightly distant cast of countenance that would buy the chance she needed: a distraction that would end in her escape. She knew the way forward. She'd foreseen it all.

Foresight was one thing. Here, in the moment, Adaria's face was worried and just a bit desperately sad. Did she have a daughter? Evin had known that on some level—a conversation that hadn't happened yet. She felt a pang of concern.

Or compassion.

Herald, the Templars took my husband's ring...

Herald, I've no news from my lady and she is meant to be here...

Herald, there's no one to lay flowers on my Senna's grave...

For a Spirit of Compassion those were "outer pains"—things an Inquisitor could heal. When had she ignored someone who needed her? More to the point, when had one of the elvhen ever asked her for something? Didn't she have a responsibility to them too?

Sometimes uniting a nation meant starting one soul at a time. Sometimes that was the only way to connect.

Evin's gaze drifted to the stairs that led into the temple. Sentinels stood on either side of the door. With each breath the possibility faded.

Maker help me. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. What can I do? I can't turn my back on them either—

"What is your daughter's name?" Evin asked.

Her daughter's name was Nimarel. As Adaria escorted her through one of the side galleries she told Evin the story.

"When the Huntress awakened she took us by surprise. My daughter's consort died. The healers couldn't save him when the corruption spread."

"What a tragic loss. Then your daughter is in mourning?" Evin asked.

"They were newly bound. But that doesn't concern me as much as..." Adaria sighed. "It's their son. He was not born here. We're afraid of what that means. Ruan'asha, my daughter won't even look at him."

As sad as the story was, Evin noted that the elvhen apparently regarded her as an expert on mortality. Which she probably was—compared to them. But so was most of Thedas.

Evin could have found the correct apartment without Adaria's guidance. To a woman with a child the sound of a crying baby was as good as a locator spell. When they reached the door Adaria peeked inside without knocking.

Evin wondered at herself. Cole wasn't a servant or a slave—she couldn't summon him at will. What did she think she was going to accomplish here? What was she to Adaria? A quickling, a captive, Fen'Harel's "woman"? A potential friend?

Perhaps that was more than she'd been before.

Delays are nothing new, Evin told herself, I gave up an opportunity. A chance. There will be others. This woman's family has importance too. She's been kind to me. I won't repay that by ignoring her.

Adaria beckoned from the door. Inside Evin found a sitting room much like her own—without Fen'Harel's excessive abundance of flowers. Nimarel was a quiet woman, tall and elegant like her mother. She didn't look tragic or withdrawn. Mostly tired, Evin thought.

The child was still crying, so after the briefest possible introduction Adaria went to fetch him. She returned with an infant of about three months, old enough to lift his head a bit and not much more. When the child was present, true enough, Nimarel didn't really acknowledge him.

"May I hold him?" Evin asked. "I remember when Revas was that size. It feels like yesterday."

"How old is your child?" Adaria asked.

"Three. Going on thirty. He's very opinionated—I think he'd vote in the Landsmeet if the banns would let him," Evin said. She cooed at the baby, who had wide blue elvhen eyes and red cheeks from his recent fit of crying. Evin was relieved to find him clean and well cared for. She untangled one hand from the swaddling and held it parallel to the ground. "Revas is about... this tall."

"That's younger than I thought. We'll ask the masters to make a trundle for him to sleep in," Adaria said.

"Where is your child's father?" Nimarel asked suddenly. Her voice had a discordant edge. "Or do Dalish men not participate in child-rearing?"

Revas' father. It was a question Evin had answered many times in far more critical situations. She looked down without speaking, long enough to hint at a painful story. When she lifted her gaze she locked it in. Small, wistful smile. "From what I understand Dalish children are raised by most adults in a clan. I never experienced that personally."

"Of course not. Your father is elvhen," Adaria said.

Did that matter to them? It did. A lot. Evin felt like sighing. But the sympathy in Adaria's face was genuine. And the father of Evin's child wasn't dead. She had so much to be thankful for. The years without Solas had been full of confusion and loneliness, but she'd had Revas and numerous companions to help her and make her laugh. She'd had purpose. Nimarel had her child—her mother—her people. She would see that in time.

Wouldn't she?

Would Adaria have asked Evin here if she wasn't truly concerned, if a mother's insight hadn't told her something was wrong?

"A dizzying number of generations have passed between my birth and yours, Inquisitor," Nimarel said. "Do you think your magic makes you one of us? What about my son, who has none? Why don't you take him with you when you go."

Nimarel rose to her feet. Evin stared in shock.

"Nimarel, wait!" Adaria exclaimed.

The woman slowly turned toward them. Her face was full of emptiness—the anticipation of a loss she already felt. "You want me to watch him die. I can't do it, Mother. Do not ask me to watch him die!"

Evin found herself with an armful of baby—a child who was adorable and sweet but certainly not one she wanted to take home. He wasn't—her child—!

Evin stole a moment to calm her pounding heart, to let the first stab of panic ease from her muscles. Maybe this was just a family matter but she had to intervene. With Revas or Fen'Harel she couldn't, not in the same way. For them emotion was important—they needed her, the real her, and that's what she was determined to give them. These women needed perfection, the best chance of happiness Evin could find.

She looked into the future.

And stumbled a bit—finding herself among paths she didn't know, branches of a little one's destiny where every turning was new. A child with a name his mother couldn't bear to speak. She didn't see much to fear. Not at all. There was happiness—so much happiness—and love. He fell in love—so many times! Perhaps he was a quickling. She couldn't see far enough to know. What did it matter? His family loved him.

Evin smiled down at the baby. And brushed away the tear that glittered on his cheek.

"Why do you think he has no magic?" Evin asked.

Adaria took the baby from her—he'd begun to fret. "It is true," she said with reluctance.

"Only quicklings are born without magic of their own. Blind and deaf and mute. A lifespan of decades." Nimarel spoke as though her lips were numb, like she had nothing left to feel. "Inquisitor, the laws of ancestry tell me that you could probably claim descent from every elvhen in this place—every one whose children lived. Such thoughts bring me no consolation. I fell in love a thousand years before Arlathan fell. How can I bear to lose his son in sixty years?"

Adaria once said that she was born a princess. Observing her daughter Evin saw much the same dignity. And pride.

"Did you know that I was born without magic?" Evin asked.

A touch of surprise. "That can't be. You're a Dreamer," Nimarel said.

"I don't know how it works for elvhen, but for us, magic doesn't develop until we're ten or twelve years old. The Chantry's tried for ages to devise an earlier test. If a method existed I'm sure they would have found it. To the relief of most of the human noble houses," Evin said.

"May I ask how old you were when your magic awakened, ruan'asha?" Adaria asked.

"Nineteen." Evin felt herself blushing. "Fen'Harel knew before I did. We used to argue about it quite a bit. He's insufferable when he's right."

Nimarel stared at her for a few moments. "I will not ask your current age. I suspect I would be shocked."

Evin felt relieved. If Nimarel could be distracted by the scandal of Fen'Harel the Cradle-Robbing Wolf, it meant she was no longer thinking about the possible death of her child.

Death was a part of life. Nothing was guaranteed, even for a child born elvhen. But that wasn't an argument Evin could use to persuade a woman in despair. If all she could give Nimarel was ten or twelve years of hope, well, that was long enough for her son to have a childhood. But maybe Evin could do a little more for a woman who tossed around phrases like the laws of ancestry.

"I'm very ignorant of magic, and even more ignorant of elvhen history," Evin began, "but I wonder what happened when elves lost their magic. Did they investigate why some of the People have magic and some don't? Is it possible to awaken elvhen who aren't mages? I know Tevinter hasn't found a way, but they only care about humans."

Adaria cradled the baby against her shoulder. She was patting him softly on the back. "Most elvhen you see now slumbered through the wars. It's the only reason they survived. There was so much chaos toward the end—survival was our main concern. If such research occurred it was lost."

"Do your people have any theories?" Nimarel asked.

Evin smiled. "The Dalish? They mostly just blame humans. And Fen'Harel."

"If the god knows more he hasn't shared it," Nimarel said. A trace of bitterness had returned. Or was it determination? "The question should be studied with the proper methodology. But... it doesn't seem possible. I'd need materials and access to quicklings. They would have to volunteer—"

"The Inquisition could help," Evin said. "Of course... I'd need some way to contact them."

When they returned to Evin's chamber, hours later, they found Surahn waiting for them—and a new pair of sentinels stationed by the door. There was no sign of Voth or Cole.

"The affinities wish to see you," the priestess said. "You will come with me."

Evin regarded the woman for a few moments, weighing the difference in her demeanor from the first few times they'd met. Fen'Harel's voice: They wanted me to lock you away.

"Do I have a choice?" Evin asked.

"You do not." The lady clasped her hands together beneath the long, loose sleeves of her robe. The perfect drape of its dove-gray folds might have belonged to a statue of the gods. "What we do is necessary, young one. One day you will understand that with time comes wisdom."

Evin glanced at Adaria, who stood with lowered eyes. "I'm sure it does. I want you to know that I'm not your enemy," said Evin.

"A matter of perspective," Surahn said coolly. "You should not have interfered with Revalas. I know the nature of the Anchor. I can guess how it was done. It may interest you to know that Fen'Harel has reached the Crossroads. You cannot contact him now, or count on his protection. He will not save you."

"Then I suppose it's also true—hahren—that he cannot save you."

Chapter Text

The Dalish brought their sick from every corner of the Plains. The god received them at his fortress: Var Bellanaris, a wonder of basalt walls and marble arches built in a single night on the bones of Unadin. Some of the ill were fetched in crude litters, some were carried by parents, others hobbled on sticks. The god healed them all. He restored limbs to those who'd lost them and vision to the blind. He healed without distinction for clan or vallaslin. And with each wound and illness he also vanquished doubt.

But not entirely.

Not all of the People accepted him. Stubborn and independent, suspicious of outsiders, some called him a demon to his face. He saw daggers reflected in their eyes—and knew these fractious children meant to kill him. It did not take long for them to try.

Later in the morning, when he went out to greet a newly arrived aravel, a party of hunters attacked with weapons instead of words.

Merrill reached for her staff. Before the girl could shape the first rune of a spell the god turned their arrows to smoke.

"Kneel," he commanded.

The tattoos on their faces drained of color. Then the ink flashed red. Red as a vein of blighted lyrium, red as a pigeon's blood ruby, red as lithium salts exposed to flame. One by one his attackers fell to their knees.

The god's amusement was laced with contempt. "You're not worthy of vallaslin. You should have taken your Inquisitor's advice."

"You're a fraud, Lysander," one of hunters said through gritted teeth. "The People will never worship an abomination. Creator? Pah! You're no god."

"How would you know?" A puzzled smile played at Lysander's lips. "You don't know what the Creators are. You've no idea why we were worshipped."

With the blade of her staff Merrill hooked the leader's short hunting bow out of reach. "Pardon me but that was really disrespectful. Not to mention dangerous. Don't you see all the varterrals?"

"You'd think they wanted to be smashed to pieces by a giant rock creature," the god remarked. The quip was entirely Lysander's—an irritating intrusion. He sighed inwardly.

Merrill was too uncertain of him to know how to respond. The words had sparked something painful in her. A memory? "You should decide what to do with them, Highest One." A touch of anxiety sped her words. "They broke the peace of the Arlathvhen. In front of witnesses and everything. You have the right to... to kill them. Not if you don't want to, I mean. But it might be for the best."

The god considered the sullen, kneeling hunters. If his twin had been here the outcome wouldn't be in doubt. Falon'Din never failed to make a martyr out of a molehill. But this was a chance to instruct, and Dirthamen would seize it.

"They attack what they don't understand, da'len. But not from a desire to gain information. Do you see how wasteful that is? They aren't even ignorant. They think they follow the Huntress, but their version of the Vir Tanadhal would offend and disgust her. How much blood did Andruil demand before Fen'Harel locked her away? What drove her followers to tear out their hearts and lay them on the three altars? What are the gods? I could show them. At the slightest whim of mine their will would crumble."

"I still can't tell if you're going to kill them," Merrill said nervously.

"Kill them?" he wondered aloud. "They're children, Merrill. You spend too much time with humans."

The girl bit her lip. She'd grown terribly upset and was trying not to show it. "You should send them away. If you let them go they'll attack you again." Her voice quavered. "They'll never accept you! I know what will happen. I've seen it before—"

"Fear misleads you," he said softly. "How much did you learn when you went into exile? Did it change your mind? You're too eager to punish, my pet."

He wasn't his twin. He wasn't his sister. He wanted willing souls, not corpses. Dirthamen ignored the girl's stammering and addressed the kneeling hunters.

You will honor the Creators, his mind commanded theirs. Crawl to my fortress on your knees and beg for my forgiveness. Or stay here and rot.

With one hand, the open palm. With the other, the fist.

It would have been easy, the god reflected, for Fen'Harel to claim the Dalish when he'd wakened. All it cost was power. Dirthamen's only real competition for these creatures was their missing Inquisitor, and their devotion was far from universal. Evin Lavellan had never embraced her true position among them. And so, after the first shock of Dirthamen's story spread, there were fewer and fewer who resisted.

Some whispered of the hunters he'd punished, but hadn't they brought it on themselves? What fool would doubt the Keeper of Secrets? Look at the people he'd healed! Behold the fine castle he'd raised! Made of stone, to be sure—like something a shem would build—but hadn't the People made similar things in the past?

One of the Creators had returned. The Dalish rejoiced.

Throughout the day aravels gathered before the courtyard of his fortress. Warriors vied to walk its walls as honor guard, but he only accepted those who wore his or his twin's vallaslin. He gathered their unwanted Seconds and taught them spells to heal the scarred plains. Over trenches filled with ashes they shaped hedge mazes of hawthorn and rue. Dead and twisted stumps sprouted new crowns of branches dotted with green.

When he was ready, when he felt secure in his stronghold and his person, he summoned the hahren'al and told the Dalish what he wanted.

"My People—" he addressed them—as he gazed out over the the rebuilt courtyard—"when I came before the hahren'al I spoke of Fen'Harel. Your storytellers were wise when they taught you to fear him. His plots and machinations could fill a mountain's height of books. Fen'Harel knows many tricks... but I know his secrets. The Dread Wolf once again threatens the world, and the truth cries out to be told. The Breach that shattered the sky eight years ago was Fen'Harel's creation. Elvhen magic tore the Veil. Elvhen magic restored it."

"Creator! Is Fen'Harel going to attack us?" one of the younger Keepers asked.

"You, my children, are beneath his notice," Dirthamen said. "It's the Inquisitor he wants—and the Mark granted her by heaven. The Huntress tried to stop him when he went to claim his prize. In the battle at Skyhold he destroyed Andruil. He took Inquisitor Lavellan. Insolent Wolf! Did he think no one else would dare oppose him? We have no time to lose. The Dread Wolf will seek to imprison me again. We must act together while we can."

Their interest sharpened despite their fear. He felt it ripple across their gathered minds the way a sudden wind moves over a field. They had seen too many wonders to doubt him out loud. And he hadn't even lied.

"All Keepers swear to oppose Fen'Harel. The People stand with you. Tell us what we can do," someone said.

"We will stand against him together—just as your ancestors stood with me in the time of Arlathan. This world may not be to Fen'Harel's liking but it is worth fighting for. You will not lack for weapons. The magic of our people lingers in many places and I know them all. I'll do everything I can to aid you. I know where the Dread Wolf hides. And we will attack him."

It was the Inquisitor's fault more than his, the god told himself. If Evin was as autonomous as she claimed why hadn't she accepted his first invitation? What was she waiting for? Perhaps this would persuade her.

He was already fond of them, his army of rabble. But not enough to spare their lives. He would send them against her, wave after wave, until they were all dead. Or she joined him.

When the last traces of violet had faded from the sky Merrill returned to Var Bellanaris. Her skin was reddened with sunburn, her short black hair untidy. She'd gone with some of the mages to a place the god described. All that was left of the eidolon was a massive, broken hand.

The Dalish feared and distrusted the student of Audacity, but if a god accepted Merrill's presence so must they. Dirthamen stood on the wall above the courtyard, watching his pupil thread her way back to his side. He recognized in himself a growing affection for her. Whether it was Lysander's emotion or his own was a question he didn't seek to answer. Hers was a face part of him recognized. In a strange and tedious world she was... familiar.

The girl came to stand beside him on the walk. Below them were cooking fires and aravels, piles of supplies, voices murmuring in common laced with elven. Halla stood in makeshift pens, stamping at the stone beneath their hooves. Parties of warriors practiced with new armor and ancient weapons.

Merrill didn't perform a reverence—the Dalish had lost the basic courtesies—but cleared her throat. A wisp of a mortal, uncertain in everything. Even silence.

"The People asked me to thank you for what you've done to help us. Some of them are afraid. They're mostly thankful, though."

"I accept their gratitude. And their fear," he replied.

She rocked a little on her heels, the sign of an internal debate. "The hunters you cursed are still out there. Kneeling. It's getting a little cold."

"There is more to do this evening," he said. "Accompany me, da'len."

Merrill followed him down to a lower level of the fortress, past the artifacts in their chamber, to an even deeper room. His will revealed a door among the stones. They passed through a narrow hallway with evenly-spaced doors on either side.

Merrill peeked into one of the grates. "Are these prison cells? With prisoners? Who are you keeping down here?"

"Spies," he said. "For one god or another. I collected them last night."

"The Creators have spies at the Arlathvhen? Among the People?" Merrill sounded shocked.

"Not anymore."

"And they never revealed themselves?"

"Perhaps I should explain the purpose of having spies."

"I know, but if—" She shook her head, then fell into troubled musing.

They'd reached the end of the hallway, which terminated at a eluvian. Runes winked in recognition on the mirror's gleaming frame. He altered them to the pattern he needed and waited for the glow to settle again.

"An eluvian," Merrill said. "Another one, I mean. I had a mirror back in Kirkwall. It was a little blighted and I was never sure if it actually worked. This one seems a lot nicer."

"We can speak of that later," he said.

They stepped through the mirror. On the other side he stood silently while Merrill studied their surroundings. The god felt tired, but there was only a little further to go. A passage ran before them, formed of perfect elven masonry. The sound of rock flakes hitting the ground came from somewhere ahead, perhaps stirred by the air currents of their arrival. Veilfire flickered in a cluster of partly melted candles on the floor.

"This reminds me of the time I went to the Deep Roads," Merrill said, gazing up at the vaulted ceiling. "Not that you care about that. Or anything. I'll shut up."

"Silence isn't necessary," he said. In fact he found her babble soothing. "This place predates darkspawn, if that's your concern."

"Oh, I wasn't worried." She gave a nervous laugh. "I don't know what to say. Ruan'in, if you knew how long I'd studied, everything I've given up—. This is like a dream, the best dream I ever had. I keep thinking that when I wake up everything will vanish. I was so nervous I forced myself take a nap. But you're still here. One of the Creators. And you want to help us."

How strange, he thought, that she knew the words and used them, but completely lacked the fear that should go with them. These modern children had lost so much of what made elvhen... elvhen. He liked this one's inquisitive mind. Except—she'd been studying him slightly too long.

Merrill was starting to blush. Impossibly nervous—but hopeful—

Fenedhis. He shouldn't have frozen.

She reached for him. And their heads collided, nose with chin. Dirthamen jerked back.

But the entire time Lysander was shouting Yes!

Why? Dirthamen demanded viciously. Because she's short as a quickling and dark-haired like Evin, whom you tasted when I told you not to? Or do you remember something? Answer me, puppet!

But Lysander had fled into silence, and that was enough for the god. Miserable creature! I will use this body as I see fit and I do not want your suggestions!

"Ow!" Merrill cried, clasping at her nose. "Sorry! I'm so sorry!" She let go of her nose and continued in a less nasal tone: "I thought—. Stupid. So stupid. I shouldn't have done that. I don't know what I was thinking! Clearly I wasn't. A friend told me I shouldn't leave things like this to chance. She never mentioned what to do when it doesn't work! Please excuse me while I look for a corner to crawl into—or some sort of hole—ah—"

Dirthamen sighed. "This is not my body, da'len. I am not free."

"Oh! I mean, right."

The god was developing a headache. He rubbed at the sore spot on Lysander's chin. "You must know that I am bound to someone else. As lovely as you are, da'len, you're twelve minutes old and as deep as a thimble."

"Er. Ouch."

"I hope you understand."

"It's... it's all right. Hahren. I don't mind being twelve minutes old compared to you. Whatever a minute is. It's just that... sometimes when you smile I think I recognize you a bit. Is that strange?"

Past Lysander's sudden, startled reevaluation, the god gave her a faint smile. A non-Lysander smile. "Ir abelas, da'len. I was wrong. You're much deeper than a thimble."

They left the mirror, following the corridor until it descended further into the earth. He lit another tongue of veilfire, but the stairs were so unvarying it probably wasn't needed. When they reached the bottom they walked along for quite some distance. The tunnel was long but very straight. Only a few cracked stones showed how old the place was now.

Here it was at last.

The wards were intact, untouched as he'd sensed before they began. When they reached the metal door he bolted up the steps in his eagerness, then belatedly turned back. Merrill hadn't yet moved to follow.

"What's inside this room is extremely dangerous to mortals," he said. "Do not touch any of it. Any of it. And use no magic. You would not survive."

When Merrill finally stepped through the door she ducked as though expecting giant spiders to launch themselves at her head. She had some experience of caves, then. Merrill crept up the last few steps to stand beside him.

A pool stretched before them, wide and rectangular and undisturbed. The waters had their own radiance, cold as the glint of moonlight on a mirror, and shed a ghostly luminescence on the carvings of the walls. The ceiling was scrawled with branching, silvery vines.

Merrill's breath came fast. "Is that... raw? Raw lyrium? I can't quite catch my—"

"Step away if you must." He felt the effects too, but for him it was like approaching a dish of fragrant honey, a nectar as seductive to a bee as power was to a god. He sat down on the edge of the stair and fumbled with his boots.

Merrill gazed up at the images carved into the stones. Her eyes followed the same motif as it repeated several times around the chamber. "The Horned Lady. Does this place have a name?"

"It has several. Harillen Liriath, a vault filled with the spoils of war. Ghilan'nain Hanin'an, a chamber of awakening. Perhaps your people will call it a tomb."

"I can hear it singing," Merrill said. "Almost too loud to hear. You could do anything with this much lyrium! You're going to free yourself, aren't you? From the prison? You're going to free all the Creators and defeat Fen'Harel and—and—. You'll restore our people."

"A child's fantasy, my pet. It's only lyrium."

"But why didn't you come to us before?"

"What makes you think I didn't?" He sighed down at his feet. "Will you—would you help me with this?"

At the base of the stairs Merrill stood dazed and mute. Then she shook her head, blinking fiercely, and clambered up the steps. "Lavellans! I never met a clan so fond of boots. Aren't you all supposed to be assassins? Isn't it difficult to sneak around in heels? Or is there some sort of boot-sneaking school you go to? Not that you're a Lavellan, really."

"Not I," he said, glancing up at her.

Merrill helped his shaking fingers with the laces, then pulled the boots from his feet one at a time. "You're—you're bleeding—"

"No boon is ever granted without cost," he said. "I must patch him up a little. Step back, da'len."

She gulped at him, eyes wide and dark and full of apprehension in the ghostly light, skin white like the full moon obscured by branches of vallaslin.

He sank his fingers into the lyrium—that madness of possibility divorced from its creator, pure power—and shut his eyes before they went white. He cradled Lysander's heart within his magic to protect it—until the weeping sores on his feet closed beneath a new pink layer of skin.

All is ready now, he thought. She will come to me. And when she does you will be free, my brother. If she is worthy...

"Highest One! Hahren! Are you still here?"

He realized Merrill had been calling him.

Dirthamen lifted his hand from the pool. He opened his eyes to watch a few silvery droplets sink into the skin of his palm.

"Still here," he said sadly.

Chapter Text

"Kill Andruil? Right, wonderful plan," Taren'nan said. His pulse was racing like a pair of frantic songbirds from a hawk. He could hardly believe he was having this discussion—in the Lord of Malice's kitchen. "It feels a bit ungentlemanly to mention this," Taren'nan continued, "and I don't mean to accuse you—but you should have been out the door an hour ago helping me escape!"

The slightly rumpled agent gave Taren'nan a bland look of disbelief. "Stop thinking about yourself for five minutes. This is important."

"Two small items may have escaped your attention. One, Andruil is already dead. Two, you can't kill a god! Only gods can do that. That's what makes them gods!"

In the glow of the kitchen's several fireplaces Felassan's face was tinted golden, his eyes almost black. "Fen'Harel likes to be certain—he's funny that way. Andruil isn't dead. Not completely. That's what he wants me to take care of. That's where you come in."

"Me? Do you know how dangerous Anaris will become once he has a body?" Taren'nan fought to control the hysteric edge to his voice. "Sweet Sylaise! He's going to wear me like a glove. And you've been here the entire time. You could have stopped the ritual. You could have helped!"

Felassan's graceless shrug lacked much sympathy. "We couldn't have won. If you weren't the vessel it would have been someone else. Can we talk about Andruil now?" Terse words, seemingly mild, with an underlying edge.

Taren'nan realized he still had a dagger in his hand. In his disenchanted armor it might look like he was threatening the smaller man. With an exasperated grimace Taren'nan replaced it in its sheath. His face ran with sweat from fright and frustration and the oppressive heat of the wood ovens. The two elvhen attracted curious glances from the kitchen servants—quickling elves who appeared to know and accept Felassan—most continued with their work.

Felassan pulled out a stool from the long preparation table. The lean, wiry agent sat down and crossed an ankle over one knee. He glanced up at Taren'nan with a wry twist to his mouth. "Think about what Anaris could do with Andruil's remaining power. Maereth told you their wonderful plan. The idiots want to bring back the Empire. Let me tell you, falon, the only man I'd accept as Emperor doesn't want the job. I will not be a slave." Felassan's eyes flashed.

Taren'nan studied the other man—and realized Felassan was almost as agitated as he was, that his apparent informality was the stillness of a striking asp. Taren'nan drew another breath to calm himself. It came as more of a shudder. "I don't want that either, falon. But there is nothing more I can do. It's not safe for me to stay."

Felassan's hand jabbed round at the quickling servants in the kitchen. "How safe is it for them? Do they have a choice? You talk like you can ask for quarter and go home, like the rules are different for you. That's what I hate about Hellathen Viran. Our people are like children with their eyes closed. They tell us it doesn't matter anymore—who was a slave and who was a prince. Except it does. It matters to the Abyss and back! But what do you care? You're one of the precious princes."

"That's unfair! I fought in the same wars as you—on the same side as you—"

Felassan's face was stony. "Because of who your father was."

Taren'nan bit down hard on bitter words. "Even if you're right," he said quietly. "I've done enough. Stay if you wish, do what you will. I'm going to find the nearest mirror before it's too late."

"Look at the shining general," Felassan said. "The Dalish didn't run."

A wave of panic and indignation threatened Taren'nan's reason—a tiny part of him wanted to choke the other man. How could Felassan be so unfair? How much more could he ask? Hadn't Taren'nan doomed himself trying to save that Dalish woman in the woods? Hadn't he doubly doomed himself when he'd agreed to Anaris' ritual—purely to spare more lives? If anyone had proved his loyalty, his devotion to Fen'Harel's cause, it was him!

...Which meant that could not be Felassan's concern.

Taren'nan's eyes snapped to the elvhen's face.

Felassan stared back at him grimly. Evaluating.

The geas.

Felassan couldn't leave Taren'nan behind. Nor could he send him away. It would be like setting an unexploded mine behind his lines. Taren'nan knew the agent was here. He'd seen his face. If Anaris took control he would know everything Taren'nan did. What Felassan was truly asking was not, Will you help? It was: Do you want to die right now?

The agent would do anything to protect Fen'Harel, his friend, the god of rebellion whose dream had freed so many. Felassan would kill without a second thought. And... in the larger sense he might be right. Maybe Taren'nan was being too self-interested—too concerned with his own skin. It wasn't exactly honorable, was it?

I just don't want to watch myself—doing those things—

Taren'nan squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them he felt much calmer, more able to analyze the situation properly. "Until the geas is broken Anaris could take me at any time. I don't know why you want my help."

"I'm willing to risk it. Because it's you." Felassan gave him another scrutinizing look. "You should aim a little higher, falon. Your father was good, but he never managed to kill a god."

"Stop persuading someone who agrees with you," Taren'nan said, and the agent visibly relaxed. "If Fen'Harel is so worried about Andruil's body why didn't he address it back at Tarasyl'an?"

"Who knows? When Fen'Harel asks me to do something I don't ask pointless questions." Felassan smirked slightly and added, "Probably too busy chasing the Lady Inquisitor around the bedchamber. One thing I'll give Fen'Harel, he always had an eye for... talent."

Taren'nan flushed. "The Inquisitor is not talent. Anyway, what do you want me to do?"

The agent's smile creased the vallaslin at the corners of his eyes. "You're Anaris. Act like it."

Chapter Text

The elvhen who escorted Evin Lavellan through the temple didn't speak to her. They passed through narrow passageways and shadow-softened galleries, carved from floor to ceiling with images of long-ago warriors, triumphs, and rites.

In the lower light of evening it seemed to the Inquisitor that everything was further away than it should be, taller and far grander, or else she had grown small, hushed with anxious silence and fleeting memories of words. She could feel the weakened Veil press against her fingers. Beneath the steady pulse of the Anchor the barrier parted like feathers, insubstantial as snow. She could almost see beyond it without the mediation of a trance. What was waiting for her in the Fade? Another future? A different past?

Evin fought against the sensation—like being caught in a blanket of wool. She tried to collect her thoughts. The temple had its own unalterable serenity, a stillness, a devouring silence, but she couldn't afford to lose herself at this most crucial of moments. She knew what was coming. She would turn the chaos to her advantage. But if she did—if she used the confusion to escape—the elvhen would never trust her again. They would think she'd colluded with one of their most feared enemies.

So be it. She'd delayed too long already.

The elvhen wanted to restore their people and civilization. She fought to save her own. Dirthavaren was her dream—to build something for her people worth fighting for again. For the city elves like her mother who lived in fear of humans. For the Dalish clans who kept what was for them an ancient way of life. For the elves of the Qun and Tevinter, enslaved in different ways. The elvhen were blind to the impossible dilemma her people faced, hastened by death and outnumbered, with no land of their own. And like a mother who rejected her child out of sorrow and disappointment they had only made things worse.

If only the elvhen had come to her a different way. If only Fen'Harel had set aside his reticence for once and told her what he wanted! For all their immortality, for all their supposed wisdom, the elvhen didn't have her insight. She couldn't stay here, the cost was too great, but she wouldn't go without trying to convince them. She owed them that much. The elvhen were her people too....

Their small group passed through a quiet, deserted garden where saplings grew in a woven arcade. At the entrance to the amphitheatre Evin hesitated. Adaria touched her arm to reassure her, but when the pair of doors swung open Evin walked through alone.

The affinities had already gathered. Light from an indeterminate source swept across a cavernous expanse: a dais where no one stood, a wide empty space before it, and ranks upon ranks of elders. Their eyes followed her. Their voices murmured and coughed. Fractured lines of inquiry branched from this moment. The intersection of several pasts, the hinge of a prison door slamming shut.

The elvhen will learn they can't control me, she thought, adding: I miss you already, emma lath.

Evin walked forward to meet her ancestors.

She ignored the bare sweep of stage—the place for petitioners and prisoners—and climbed the few steps to the dais. A single chair stood on the highest level. Gray wooden limbs, sturdy simplicity, with a tall back and splayed arms. Evin dragged it one step lower and took a seat.

Surahn, who'd followed her as far as the dais, didn't join her on it. The priestess gazed up at her with critical eyes. "That place is reserved for Fen'Harel."

"Do you think vhenan will mind?" Evin asked. "It's been a long day and my feet are tired. Too much dancing."

"I regret you are not well-rested." Surahn's voice was suddenly pitched for the entire room. The gathered elvhen fell silent.

Evin gave the priestess a knowing smile and settled back in Fen'Harel's chair. "I hope you'll have no further regrets, Keeper. How can I help the affinities?"

"Would you like someone to speak on your behalf, Inquisitor? Voth performed this service in the past. Shall I send for him?"

Evin nodded at the crowd. "I believe he's already here. As I recall, the last time we met the affinities acknowledged my rights. I'm an adult by your admission. I'll speak for myself. Shall we begin?" She didn't wait for a response. "It's a little late for a gathering. Tell me what you want."

"We are concerned about some of your actions," Surahn said.

"Fen'Harel told me," Evin said. "When he questioned me about Revalas. He was satisfied with my answers. Is your wisdom greater than his?"

"You deny, then, that you freed a servant of the enemy? That you conspired with Anaris?"

"A ridiculous assertion." Evin didn't hide the outrage in her voice. In such a setting and with such an audience she was the one who interrogated others. "I'm your friend and ally. I have been since I learned of your existence. The Lord of Malice killed my people at Skyhold. He ordered my own father to attack me out of spite. When Revalas stood before the affinities for judgment I told you to kill him. You disregarded my advice. Don't blame his escape on me."

"Why, then, did you converse with him in an obscure language? Why not use elven?" Surahn pressed. "For someone who claimed not to know our tongue when you arrived you are rather facile with it now."

Would you believe that I'm a fast learner? Evin thought. Poor Voth. His weeks of effort in the Fade would go unrecognized.

Evin gave her questioner a slightly flattered smile. "I'm still learning elven, but thank you. The language I spoke with my father is called common—because it is. I visited him like any daughter would, but as Inquisitor, as a leader, I needed to understand the significance of his return. I grew up believing he was Dalish. I thought he was dead. You can imagine my surprise when I saw him again with a bow in his hand. A servant of the enemy."

One of the elvhen stepped forward. Very pale, with hollow cheeks and eyes outlined in black. He wore a coat of deep wisteria that didn't conceal the sharpness of his frame. "Exian's fate was in Fen'Harel's hands. Not yours, ruan'asha. You do not have the right to act of your own accord. None of us may do so and remain here."

"I've always thought and decided for myself," Evin said. "According to my people Fen'Harel is a traitor. Our greatest enemy! If I believed my elders I wouldn't trust or love him. I won't relinquish my judgment to you or anyone else. You have my friendship, hahren, but not my obedience. If you require it to live among you I should leave."

Murmuring broke out among the affinities. "That will not happen," the man said. "It will never happen. The Anchor must stay here. The Anchor controls—"

"Silence!" said Surahn. "We will not speak of such things now."

Evin gripped the armrests of the chair. "Since the day I arrived you excluded me from your deliberations. You wouldn't even allow me to observe. What choice did I have but to act on my own? You've built an admirable society without bondage or coercion... except where I'm concerned. Was it easy to sacrifice my freedom for yours?" As the muttering grew louder Evin surged to her feet. "You have no right to keep me here! You may have shut yourselves away from the world but I'm still part of it. My duty is to my people. No one else will help them. You must let me go before—. Before something unimaginable happens."

"And so you would risk the Anchor? For quicklings?" The man sounded shocked.

Evin was grateful she didn't have a staff, because the sheer incandescent heat of her anger would have set his pale yellow hair on fire. "For the children you abandoned. For the responsibility you won't acknowledge. Don't you see why I have to leave? It doesn't have to be this way. You could help me—you could help all of us and we'd welcome you. You should come with me, not stop me. If you still wish it, when my duty is satisfied I'll return here. But not until then."

But no one spoke. It was impossible, as she'd seen from the beginning. They were too far apart and too proud to relent.

"Inquisitor, you will age and die if you depart the temple grounds," Surahn said carefully. "Your immortality will fail. Accept our guidance with grace."

"Ah yes. The bribe," Evin said. "But I've seen what happens to mortals who strive to live forever. I've seen the destruction—and the evil. Unlike you I was raised from birth knowing I will die. I will never make that choice. I will never turn my back on the world for selfish reasons."

"No, your duty is here," Surahn said sharply. "The Anchor is more important than your quicklings. The world no longer needs you. We do. Your time with the Inquisition is over. Our mages will restore Skyhold so that you have no regrets. Your son will live here with us. One day the danger will pass and you may leave. Until then you will stay here. Our terms are generous, Inquisitor."

Time. Evin let a fraction of the Mark ignite in her hand. A sudden blaze of green flooded the entire amphitheatre. The elvhen rose to their feet, shocked.

Evin gazed down at the priestess, seeing the emerald glint of the Anchor in her eyes. "You've misread the situation. I'm not here to negotiate. You don't have the power to imprison me. You no longer have anything I want."

Surahn's mouth tightened with determination, perhaps a little sadness. "Inquisitor, we have already decided. As much as I wish it were otherwise, the affinities are agreed. If you do not swear to remain here you will enter dathenera, the little sleep. If Fen'Harel wishes to rouse you he may do so when he returns."

"You must not," Evin said. "Don't do this. Please!"

The writhing, shifting lines of a binding circle expanded from Surahn's hand to almost touch the dais. The priestess' spell was swift—but the Mark was already awake to disrupt it

Evin backed up a step, careful to avoid the circle. The Mark began to crackle and hiss as the will of the affinities contended with hers—the strength of hundreds of trained and gifted elvhen.

I don't want to kill anyone! How much longer could she hold back?

"Is this what your consensus is worth?" Evin demanded, lifting the Anchor higher. "Is this how you govern yourselves? You waited to call a gathering until my strongest supporters left with Fen'Harel! I'd expect such scheming of humans, not my own blood!"

The two opposing magics had barely begun to collide. Then darkness turned everything black.

The Anchor had died. Even the sourceless light from before vanished. Individual tongues of veilfire soon illuminated the crowd.

"What has happened?" voices cried. "The Veil, do you sense it? We are under attack! The Hearth! The Hearth has gone out!"

"Calm yourselves!" the priestess shouted. "We must restore the wards! Those of you with assigned duties go to your places—"

Then the elvhen cried out for another reason: Fen'Harel's throne stood empty.

The Inquisitor was gone.

Chapter Text

Evin Lavellan fled from the affinities into a quiet, night-dark garden. The protective magic that permeated Hellathen Viran had vanished. Its absence was stark and sudden, like being woken from a warm and comforting dream by an icy slap of water. She paused, straining her ears over the sound of sighing branches and her own drumming heartbeat. She didn't hear them following.

Evin glanced down at the ember of fire in her left hand, flickering and green. Each time the Mark flared a corresponding shudder went through her body. But she couldn't extinguish it yet. She needed the Anchor's protection. Because when she raised her other hand—the hand without the awakened Mark—it was marked by something else.

There, on her skin—the black and writhing lines of Surahn's dathenera binding.

Fenedhis lasa! The elvhen spell had caught her. Just barely—but enough. Not everything went according to plan.

Whenever the Mark pulsed, the Veil contorted in sympathy, a slight but effective disruption of magic. If not for that ability she'd be laid out on the ground, trapped in the elders' little sleep. She had to get rid of the binding. But how? A glance through the nearest futures showed that none of the magic she knew would break it. She'd never studied with a Circle or a Keeper. She didn't have hundreds of years of training. She didn't know how to cancel the spell!

I have to go to the Arlathvhen—before the Keeper of Secrets starts a war between my people and Fen'Harel's! If only I could switch to a different branch, one where the spell hadn't touched me. I can't extinguish the Mark until I figure out what to do.

If she escaped through an eluvian now the binding would leave her at Dirthamen's mercy. She needed something that could erase or consume the enchantment. Something powerful enough to generate the possibilities she needed. There had to be a way—the branches of the right future still existed. But how to reach them? What could she do?

Then she remembered—

Falon'Din's door to the Beyond. Such power could break almost anything.

She had to get to the inner sanctum.

Battles were difficult to map out in advance. Evin hadn't quite timed her escape—there were too many factors in play. The best path was to note the main lines of each possible future, prepare whatever her future self might need, and be ready to adjust when things went wrong. As they did.

So she adjusted. And just now she needed to run.

Evin avoided both gravel paths and flowerbeds, treading on larger stones where possible to avoid unnecessary noise. She entered the nearest gallery and found the corridor empty and black. All the veilfire torches were out. Unsettling to see the temple bare—this section felt almost abandoned.

Soon the sound of fighting met her ears. Weapons—the scrape of a blade against scale armor—then a shout and the deadly hiss of offensive magic. Evin threw a shining white barrier over herself and hurried toward it.

There—in the darkness where the hallway branched before a stair. Two fighters attacking. A sentinel faced a smaller elf in Inquisition armor!

"Ruan'asha, venavis!" the sentinel exclaimed.

Before he could call for help Evin reached for the Mark. Everything slowed, smearing out a single heartbeat into enough time to plan and act. In the space of that one heartbeat she demolished the sentinel's barrier and slapped him with a rune of sleep.

When normal time resumed the Inquisition fighter witnessed his enemy topple over. Startled, the elf checked his spectral blade before its downstroke. Then he caught sight of her—and the glowing Anchor in her hand.

The man's face lit up into an expression of wonder and relief. "Inquisitor, you're here! We have been searching—"

"Cillian!" Evin said, beckoning. "Come with me!"

He lowered the glowing, magical blade and hurried after her up the stairs. "I came with the other Dalish, your Worship. We're here to free you from Fen'Harel!"

How the god must be laughing, Evin told herself bitterly. The Keeper of Secrets had sent the mortal elves to attack their own ancestors. How many were going to die? If only she had more time! Evin glanced behind them, calculating which route to take, the smallest chance of interception.

"How many of you are there?" she asked.

"Almost every clan follows the Awakened God. But this is just a raid. A test, he said. You have to come with me, Inquisitor. I can take you to back to the—to the eluvian—"

Evin scanned through the possibilities and counted Dalish faces. A raid. Perhaps twenty or thirty, then? Plus whatever magic Dirthamen had sent to sow confusion. "Are there other Inquisition soldiers?" Evin asked.

"One or two elves, I think. The human Divine sent orders against it—but Lysander is your spymaster and high-ranked in the Inquisition, whatever else his nature. All is confusion—"

"Cillian, listen to me," she said. "You have to promise not to kill anyone. Even if the ancients attack first. Defensive magic only. Do you understand?"

"Yes, your Worship." As simple as that. He trusted her.

"Tell the others when you see them. If they value me at all, if they value the future of our People, do not kill."

Evin began to climb the next flight of stairs—the way to the inner temple. But Cillian didn't follow. "Inquisitor, wait! We should rejoin the others. We'll take you safely to the mirror. Please, your Worship! Even if you wish us to avoid shedding blood, we can still protect you with our lives. The way you saved all of us."

I can't let you rescue me! Evin wanted to shout. There was no point in explaining the elvhen binding to him. It was far more important to explain something else.

Evin loosed the Anchor—ripping away the layers of control that normally concealed it from the world. Sudden, green-edged light flared from her body and her eyes. It eclipsed the little ember in her hand and flooded the stairway like a stark white blaze.

"Do you think I need your protection?" the Inquisitor asked.

Cillian lifted his hand to protect his eyes. "Your Worship—"

"You want me to go with you. I can't. It would escalate the fighting, do you understand? I'm trying to get out of here with as few deaths as possible. The elvhen are not our enemies!"

The man peered up at her with carefully shaded eyes. "The ancients destroyed Skyhold. They kidnapped you—they serve the Dread Wolf, the god who betrayed our people!"

"That didn't—" Evin stopped. She doused the Anchor, returning them to darkness. "Listen to me. I am the Inquisitor and I'm in my right mind and I'm telling you—Dirthamen has not told you the entire truth. If you want to know more you must question him. When Andruil attacked Skyhold I nearly died. Fen'Harel saved my life and as many others as he could. He was a member of the Inquisition once. He called himself Solas. And... I'm in love with him."

"You are—in love—with—the—" Cillian was stunned. His voice went up an octave. "Solas? I met him!"

"Nothing is as simple as you were told."

Cillian shook his head, off-balance and confused. Then he drew a quick breath—and something in him sharpened. "If that is the case... what are your orders?"

"I may not need your protection, but I would like your help. This way," she said.

They were approaching the inner temple now—up the remaining stairs, past the deserted sentry points, through corridors she knew better than any others. They'd left most of the fighting behind them.

In the light of the Mark, Cillian stared up at the temple walls, lips parted, eyes wide with wonder. "To imagine our people live in such a place. With such memories. I would give anything to learn."

"They're misguided, not evil," she replied, glancing at her binding-stained fingers. "There are worse gods than Fen'Harel. I pray to the Maker we'll be ready."

The next door they approached was guarded. Before they reached it Evin stopped.

"You can't enter here," she said.

"Should I wait outside, then? Or return? I do not know if I can find my way back," Cillian said.

"Another sentinel will be along in a moment. I need you to distract her. If you raise your hands like this she won't attack. She'll be startled to see you, to be honest—"

"I..." Cillian took a breath. "Listen to me, Inquisitor. I understand what you have said, but please consider. The others may not believe what I tell them. The People are determined to free you—maybe you do not want to be freed—"

"I'll join you when I can," Evin said. "Please remember what I said."

A moment later the sentry spotted Cillian. Evin shifted herself into a faster frame and left them: a pair of lifelike statues, frozen in mutual surprise.

There were no guards at the entrance to the sanctum. Beside the small flight of stairs she found the pack Voth had left for her. She knelt to remove her shoes and hurried inside.

The first time Evin had entered the sanctum Fen'Harel had been waiting for her. This time he was gone. Someone else would be here to greet her. And she had to be ready for him.

She ducked into one of Fen'Harel's small rooms and claimed a simple staff from his collection.

When she reached the wide, central courtyard Evin walked to the boundary of the black pool. Silent and reflective as obsidian glass, rectangular like a door to the void, it reflected a night sky studded with pinpricks of stars. The air was cold and still. Evin shivered a little and knelt by the edge.

Black lyrium. Raw chaos. Possibility stripped from the void.

Evin clenched her bound hand, then extended her fingers—

"You must not do this," a voice said.

Evin snatched her hand back. She rose to her feet in time to see him climb the last few steps to the courtyard.

"Varen," she said.

"You are not surprised to see me," the former sentinel said.

"Neither are you," Evin observed.

Varen walked toward her—without any haste, almost a stroll—but he halted out of physical range of her staff.

"And so I find you here, Inquisitor. Did you think your petty deception would succeed? That I would not recognize the true purpose of the Vianaris? I served Mythal far too long to swallow such a childish lie. Your power is crude compared to hers."

Always so easy to predict... "I think you have a little foresight of your own," Evin said.

"I may not possess the Anchor but I can still interpret the nearer shadows of my fate," he said. "The All-Mother honed her wisdom over such a length of time that your life is an eyeblink in comparison. You are a blunder. Fen'Harel's mistake. You would doom the People with your ignorance and shallow mastery."

"Perhaps I am a mistake," she said, "but not all mistakes are tragedies. Some are gifts."

But Varen had noticed the black scrawl on her hand. His golden eyes flared with satisfaction, his pale lips twisted in a smile. "You lacked the skill to avoid Surahn's enchantment. All I need do is disrupt the Anchor. Then you will sleep for a very long time."

Easy to predict, Evin thought. Because Varen was steering toward a future of his own. He couldn't see as clearly as she did—he hadn't known to come here until after the binding had taken. That's why he hadn't been waiting for her. He'd arrived just barely in time.

Evin glanced at the silent pool. It would take time for the quiescent energy to respond to her—actual time. She couldn't afford an interruption.

"Fen'Harel values you highly, Varen. He wouldn't want us to fight. Is there any way to avoid this?" Evin asked.

"Witless child—you are not fit to leave this place!" It was almost a shout of frustration. "You are too weak to protect the Anchor. You would only be fodder for our enemies, a pawn served up to a disastrous sacrifice. Have you learned nothing in your time here? I will not allow you to destroy us."

Evin let her pack fall to the ground. "I'll act as my judgment dictates, sentinel. I still intend to leave."

Varen drew his curved sword. "I know, Inquisitor. And I will stop you."

Green flame danced along the polished surface of Evin's staff, braced in her Anchored hand. "Is that what your Sight tells you?" she asked. "Mine says something else."

Chapter Text

Varen's sword swung at the Inquisitor—a metallic glint of blue under the night sky. Evin Lavellan didn't flinch.

The blade halted inches from her face. "Defend yourself!" the former sentinel exclaimed.

"You aren't going to kill me," Evin said. "Stop wasting my time."

Evin dismissed the blade from her attention. She pivoted on one foot and swiftly knelt, bracing herself with Fen'Harel's staff. The pool of obsidian stretched before her, silent and immense, the product of a deranged Creator who'd sacrificed helpless slaves to feed his power. Fen'Harel had put an end to that. As Evin would end the chaos brought by Dirthamen.

She extended a fragment of the Mark toward the pool and felt an immediate flicker of recognition.

A line of green traced the edges of the water, outlining it in the darkness. A hint of the same emerald shade coalesced deep within its surface. The pool began to whisper.

Varen lowered his sword. He stared at her with enmity, unwilling to risk her life when she was at the water's edge, but she'd foreseen that too. The last sentinel of Mythal wore bronze-chased armor that might be thousands of years old. The scimitar and magic he wielded had been honed over a similar length of time. Evin didn't have the advantage of armor. She wore a simple gown of linen. Here in the sanctum her feet were bare. A mage's staff was better than a bow at melee range but hardly her favorite weapon. An outside party, looking at them, might think she was outmatched.

Varen clearly did not think so. His pale lips were set in a grim and wary line. His golden eyes narrowed. "The Pool is not a toy for you to play with," he said in a grating voice.

Evin rose to her feet. "Then come and slap my hand away, hahren. You have until the black lyrium wakens to persuade or stop me. If you can."

He didn't warn her again. Varen's blade lashed out—

A blow intended to disable or stun. Evin's arm moved almost on its own to block it with the staff. She hardly wasted a thought on the movement or the warning blast of energy that vanished in Varen's barrier. What mattered was the binding on her right hand. It would render her helpless if she let the Mark slip for an instant. She needed the pool to disable the spell—or she would never escape.

Varen had some foresight. Did he realize how little he saw without the Anchor? Time for a test.

Evin's back was to the water. She sidestepped, bringing Fen'Harel's staff around in an arc to force her opponent away. Varen tracked her movement—he intended to drive her from the pool. Instead she retreated along its taller side. Her free hand wove a series of runes. Missiles fell toward Varen like lines of light. The spell struck his armor without effect.

His sword came at her from the side. She dodged again, and this time instead of using the staff Evin let the Mark flare in her hand. Its power crackled like a storm inside her skull, blazing out across the courtyard. Stark black shadows fled behind each pillar.

Varen fell back with a curse. He raised his forearm to protect his eyes.

A man with better foresight would have known to hide his face. Couldn't he see he wasn't good enough? Evin would always see one step beyond him.

Evin let most of the light drop away. "Do you still think you can stop me?"

"Mythal was worthy of her secrets. Prove yourself, Inquisitor," Varen said.

He tossed his curved sword high into the air. It poised there a moment, held by the sky, and when it fell it brought a silver rain of knives.

A magic she had to evade. Evin started moving before he finished the spell and ducked beyond the radius just in time. She overbalanced, almost tripped, and caught herself with the staff. When she stood again Varen met her with a blast of lightning.

She caught his magic with the Mark. The blue-white energy crackled in her hand, fighting to escape between her fingers like a struggling, captured bird. She reached for her favorite spell—to speed herself in time—to slow down everything else—

Varen canceled it.

A fluke? Evin tried again.

Nothing happened.

Desperate alarm surged through her fingers, dismay sank in her belly. Here was his foresight. This was what he'd foreseen! What could she do? If she had to, she could rip open the Veil and stuff him through the hole. But Varen's death would mark her as a pariah among the elvhen. There was no coming back from such an act. How would she ever explain herself to Fen'Harel? She would only take that step in defense of her own life.

She could only be defeated if she chose to lose. Had he forced her onto that path, the same way Surahn had bound her hand? She had to do better!

Evin's fingers clenched around the stave. If she unleashed the Mark—no. Not yet.

"You cannot defeat my magic. What use is foresight if you lack the power to win? Every path will end in ruin. Learn this lesson quickly, da'len. Do you still desire to play?" the former sentinel asked.

Evin calmed herself. More time would grant more options. She would draw him out a little. "The Dalish need my protection. You called us shadows wearing vallaslin. Do you still believe that?"

The elvhen took a few steps from her, graceful in his unshod feet, pacing like a lion before its prey, seeking a moment of inattention or a better angle of attack. "In you I was mistaken—but then you are not Dalish. You received a sentinel's training, the Dread Wolf's guidance. You had foresight even when I met you. I recall its voice in every perfect word you spoke to us, the final visitor to the vir'abelasan. It does not matter to us what happens to one generation of quicklings. It is regrettable, I know. But their lives are inconsequential compared to the Anchor. They are not your concern," he said.

"I am the Inquisitor," she said. "I decide where my responsibility lies. Not you."

"No, your duty is here. You must accept your role just as Fen'Harel accepts his. The Anchor sets you apart. Today we stand before a different well, the artifact of another god, but this is not a pool of knowledge. Falon'Din's only gift was death. I will not hand you to his brother."

This was infuriating! Why were they all so stubborn? Evin grimaced—"I've seen and understand the risk. You should know better than anyone. I showed Fen'Harel every future in which I returned—"

"Did you show him the ones where you do not?"

Evin stopped—staring at him. "I didn't lie."

"Then you did not understand what you saw," Varen said.

Behind Evin the pool began to whisper in a louder voice. She felt the black lyrium at her back—like a fire that made her cold, that penetrated her skin with fear. It could free her from Surahn's binding—if she could stop Varen long enough to access it. How could she disable a mage so much more accomplished than she was, a man with enough foresight to perceive her weaknesses? She didn't have the right tools. Would she have to kill him with the Mark? Was all her magic useless against him?

No, that wasn't it! His neutralizing spell was a localized effect and he'd centered it on her. She saw it now. She could still guide him to the correct branch!

Evin let a smile escape her lips. "You have so little imagination," she said. "Don't worry, I still like you."

"You are not immortal. You are not a god. Why do you think you can face one alone? Foolishness!" Varen cried.

"I won't just sit here while my people kill themselves to rescue me," Evin said.

"You know very well as soon as you leave Hellathen Viran all hope of peace will vanish. Do not make us your enemies," he said.

And Evin saw that he was right. A decision as irreversible as killing him. She'd come here to destroy the binding on her hand. But she would end up breaking more than that. Fen'Harel's fragile alliance would splinter. She didn't want to be responsible for driving a wedge between the elvhen. What could she do? She couldn't stay—couldn't leave—neither branch was good enough. Like Fen'Harel and his wolves—

Safer in some ways. More dangerous in others. She'd thought to avoid it. Now she saw she had no choice. Not if she wanted the bright path, the one that ended at Fen'Harel's side.

Varen didn't wait for another response. He braced his legs in a wider stance and bowed his head. And then—a shadow passed over him. A much larger shadow, a suggestion of shape gaining form.

In the same instant he completed the change—a dragon with a sinuous silvery neck took his place and screamed!

Alarm surged through Evin's chest. Stunned for a moment, she fell back, then scrambled for Fen'Harel's staff. She fled—running along the edge of the pool. The dragon's lightning breath crashed into her barrier and shredded it.

She half-turned, lifting the staff, and threw a series of spells. "Cole!" she screamed. "It's time!"

But she had no idea if the spirit heard. The dragon dodged her magic. Vast gray wings beat at the air, raising a wind that whipped at her eyes. She lifted her hand and ignited the Mark, trying to warn the creature away from the instability in the Veil.

The dragon reared up on its hind legs, jaws parted—

And froze in place.

"Gotcha," Evin said. "Didn't foresee that one, did you?"

Evin hurried to the edge of the pool. The silver dragon poised above her, frozen in place, its head caught in a trap of time. If it was moving within the invisible sphere it was far too slow to see. She still had to hurry—if she really was going to do this—

Evin knelt and extended her Marked hand to the awakened lyrium.

Her fingers hovered over the gleaming black surface for a moment. Then, from within the pool, another hand—wet and dripping black—emerged to clasp hers!

Split in her awareness—a reflection of this world on its shadow in the Fade—the endless shore of the Vianaris and the lip of Falon'Din's pool. Two Inquisitors. Two selves kneeling beside infinity. Hands reaching—grasping—joined.

In the physical world Evin caught the slick pale wrist. She struggled to keep hold, pulling, fighting with all her strength, wresting the naked arm from the pool of dead lyrium one hard-won inch at a time.

The rest of the arm emerged, then a shoulder. A mass of hair dripping, a head with its face concealed, another shoulder, the chest of a woman still breathing, gasping for air, fighting to break free.

Muscles straining with single-minded will, with every bit of power she could steal from the Anchor in this world and the Fade. Evin pulled her reflection from the pool.

And when she emerged she stared into her own eyes, a face exactly like hers, an unclothed body that shivered in the night air, that breathed and blinked when she did.

Two branches.

Two selves. One to save the Dalish. One to keep her promise to Fen'Harel.

Evin stood and snapped her fingers at the dragon. The spell dissolved. Varen lowered his dragon head, disoriented for a moment—until he saw them. Then he froze again.

She walked around the edge of the pool to retrieve the pack she'd left there. Opening it, she pulled out an extra set of clothes and handed them to herself.

Evin glanced over her shoulder at Varen. Surahn's binding was still alive on her right arm—this body's arm. Her other form was unaffected.


"Tell the others they have my promise. I will not leave," the Inquisitor said. "I trust you are satisfied, sentinel. Do not try to stop me again."

Chapter Text

He was surrounded by servants again.

They did not intend to act that way, he knew. Dreamers, fellow mages, brilliant minds—they fell into respectful silence when he approached. The elvhen knew his wishes and carefully did not use the honorific that lurked beneath their words. But it was only politeness. The unspoken title was hidden in their eyes—and revealed in corresponding relief when he left. The elvhen would not relax in his presence. They did not know him well enough, and he had no desire to disturb them. Evin had persuaded them, these gracious mages, to restore Tarasyl'an Te'las. So quickly, so easily had they fallen under her spell. He did not have the same gift. He only knew how to inspire others to war.

But it was far more important to build peace....

As difficult as the years with the Inquisition had been, they had brought him clarity. Companionship. Tarasyl'an Te'las had warmer memories for him now. To see the place wrecked and defeated by his own hand, to be among his own kind but set apart, was a hard burden.

Fen'Harel sat down to eat alone.

The elvhen had set up a camp in the Chantry garden. The sky was overcast with green. There was no weather in Skyhold's self-contained prison, so it made little difference where they stayed. The fare was simple. Oaten cakes and cheese, honeyed wine to wash it down. He did not admit to liking sweets—somehow the elvhen presented him with them anyway—he was too circumspect to ask for something else. No, Fen'Harel did not like sweets but the wine was good. He poured more into his tankard.

"I don't know if I can drink this elf swill," Iron Bull said, wedging his bulk onto the empty part of the bench.

Fen'Harel edged away from Bull's sudden, looming elbow—the massive Qunari was forced to sit a little too close. They were shoulder to shoulder but Bull did not seem to mind. The Qunari arranged his meal to his satisfaction and lifted a nearly empty wineskin to his lips.

"Skyhold doesn't look that bad. You'd hardly know it was coated in magical poison and set to explode," Bull said.

"After we remove the survivors it will be easier to judge. You have my thanks for helping us," Fen'Harel said.

"Anything I can do for the boss." Bull's eyes drifted to Ilgarla, who sat with the other elvhen, facing a different direction. Alert eyes in a wooden face.

Fen'Harel snapped off another piece of cake and waited.

"So. Elven women."

"We physically entered the Fade to restore Skyhold and that is your most pressing concern?"

"It makes sense, though. The longer you've been doing something the better you get at it. Much, much better." The Qunari's shoulders slumped for a moment—he stared up at the greenish sky, half in wonderment. "The things she does with her muscles—"

Fen'Harel grimaced as with pain. And sheer embarrassment. He glared at the nearest wall to avoid looking at either party. "Ilgarla is a friend and the daughter of an important ally. I have no desire to think of her in that way—"

"That's fine, Solas. It's just that I'm learning so much about your people. I'm amazed the Inquisitor doesn't walk bowlegged."

As shocked as he was—as he must pretend to be—Fen'Harel couldn't speak for a wicked moment. "I am surprised I do not walk bowlegged," he muttered.

"Like that, is it?" Bull said, lifting an appraising brow.

"Blighted—fenedhis! Would it be possible to eat in silence? Or to confine our remarks to something less intrusive? My favorite position, perhaps?" His voice sharpened.

"For a man they call the Dread Wolf, I think I can guess," Bull replied.

That actually startled Fen'Harel out of a short laugh. The Qunari grinned and returned to his meal.

"Dread Wolf isn't bad as far as names go. I mean, I like it," Bull offered.

"I am glad you approve, Iron Bull."

"This crowd seems intimidated by you. It's good for them to see you laugh. As Solas you were always a little too quiet," Bull said thoughtfully. "You're lucky Lavellan saw through you."

"Yes." Fen'Harel found he had lost his smile. "Though perhaps the luck is only mine."

Black lyrium ran in droplets from Evin Lavellan's hair, dripped from her neck, pooled at her bare feet. The dead lyrium tingled like cold fire where it touched her skin, but she didn't feel dizzy or sick as she would have with normal lyrium. Most of her attention was focused inward. She sat with her knees drawn up to her chest, thoughtful with the weight of two selves, matched in equal halves. An Anchor mirrored and reversed.

One side felt expectant and alert, charged with nerves, ready to fight. The other was calm and cool and tranquil as Falon'Din's glassy, sacrificial pool. The muscles of her back tensed in a careful stretch before she rose to her feet. She didn't speak to herself—one's left hand has no need to speak to one's right.

She examined her selves—curling fingers into fists, straining new muscles, testing the Mark as it pulsed—and found nothing to alarm her. She felt... stable. Even with doubled senses and twinned eyes, she was more than one, but of one mind. She was accustomed to shifting her attention from the Fade and back. This was just another vector of control. Another body. Equal, whole, and real.

The dragon, a moment ago her opponent, blurred then collapsed. Sword forgotten, Varen ran to her in his elvhen shape. He caught her hands—one hand from each—and knelt before her, grasping both wrists as carefully as if he were counting heartbeats.

Always with extremes, Evin thought. Complete acceptance or rejection. Nothing in between. She pulled away from his grasp.

Varen's hands fell loosely to his lap. "The All-Mother told me another would come. She did not say you would be mortal. Perhaps you will name me Solas to punish my conceit."

"That would be confusing. And unkind. I can't—"

"—accept your service," she said with both voices.

"It is not only your decision, Inquisitor," Varen returned. He rose to his feet, but interest sharpened in the depths of his golden eyes. A kind of hunger. "Will you approach the Keeper of Secrets without an appropriate retinue? Whom would you bring as escort—that plaintive clown who served Sylaise? Who lacks a single useful form?"

Did he think insulting her friend would persuade her? "Voth is not a clown. His skills are important but his place is here. I don't intend for him to accompany me," Evin said.

"Then we agree," Varen said.

"I have no intention of taking you with me."

"Does Fen'Harel know you mean to go alone?" he asked impatiently.

Evin smiled with both mouths. "I won't be alone," she said. "We might be friends one day, Varen. Stay with me here in the temple. You can teach me aravas... while the fate of the world is decided elsewhere."

His mouth firmed. "The world consists of more than a few Dalish, Inquisitor."

He was right in that but nothing else. Evin was running out of time. She heard voices raised in alarm—outside the sanctum—more elvhen had arrived. They hadn't dared to enter yet. All Varen had to do was call them.

Let them find what they sought.

Evin examined her right hand, the one tangled in Surahn's spell like a net. She let the Mark die. The green blaze of light extinguished.

The elvhen binding crawled up that body's arm like a snake, tattooing it with fresh black runes, until it reached her neck.

She collapsed into sleep—a snap of darkness, then nothing, a jolt into the Fade. Varen reached out to catch her.

In the same instant her other self sped toward the door.

Evin dodged between the sentinel elves on the stairs, pushing through them to reach the corridor outside the sanctum. There she found Cole, daggers sheathed, tall hat flopping over his eyes.

He frowned at the frozen elvhen. "I'm glad you didn't kill the dragon," the spirit said.

"This way, Cole!" Evin said. The spirit followed.

They retraced their steps from the inner quarter, working their way outside. The veilfire torches were still out, but by now the elvhen defenders had swept the Dalish forces from most of the temple. The fighting had retreated to the points of entry—the focus limit of Dirthamen's eluvian. When the pair reached the broad stairs that led outside the temple, another figure was waiting for them.


"Finally," the creature said.

"Where have you been? We've been looking for you!" Cole exclaimed.

Guile's jaws parted in a lazy yawn, revealing white pinpoint fangs and a delicate pink tongue. The lynx rose to its feet, took a few light steps forward, then turned back to look at them with unblinking golden eyes.

"This way," the demon said.

Chapter Text

One of the most terrifying greetings Fen'Harel knew consisted of a single blurted phrase: Everything is fine. When Era'garas uttered these words of doom the Dread Wolf steeled himself to hear of a disaster. The general related a tale that worsened with every word. When she had finished—and scurried away with an unseemly air of relief—Fen'Harel was left with countless questions. And a roiling desire to launch a few flaming meteors at his honored elvhen.

Why had the People escalated matters with the Inquisitor so drastically? Did they think open conflict would improve matters? Why had Evin not left for Dirthavaren? Had her plan already gone awry? Now the temple had been attacked and the elvhen were at swords' points.

If they had not—why must they—fenedhis!

After a long and grinding day he had no patience. The restoration of Tarasyl'an Te'las was tough work and the mages Evin had recruited could only do so much. Even here in the Fade the weight of the Fen'edal was strangling. He experienced a sudden, vivid image of himself tearing it from his throat and hurling it into the mist.

Reflexively Fen'Harel reached into a pocket for the gift from his vhenan. A flower with silver-chased petals as delicate as a song. Its magic was steadying, a reassuring silken pulse between his fingers. Evin was already in the Fade. When she arrived he would have answers.

Fen'Harel stood just within a pavilion of sculpted white branches, a Dreamer's creation where he and his council could meet in secret. A few of the officers had already arrived. They stood to one side, muttering to each other. Fen'Harel began to pace, hands clasped behind his back, fretful and impatient but too disciplined to reveal it by any other signal. After what felt like years of waiting Evin and her escort drew near. They all sensed her—pausing their conversations to watch her walk in—a blaze of light against the mind like a signal fire in the night.

They sense the Anchor. Its purity and its power. All know she is yours. As do your enemies, a voice whispered.

The affinities might have ruled against her but Evin did not look especially defeated. Her gaze swept the pavilion. Determined, confident, perhaps a bit imperious in the unconscious way of one accustomed to leadership. Evin did not acknowledge those who accompanied her. She walked directly to Fen'Harel while the others fell behind.

"They insisted on accompanying me. A Dreamer. In the Fade," Evin said. A dry hint of humor.

"Vhenan," he said.

Evin's lips parted. Then she seemed to reconsider. Turning the full force of her attention on him she lifted one arch eyebrow. "Is that your idea of a greeting, Dread Wolf?" she challenged.

He kept his expression mild. "Will you accompany me?"

She followed him a few steps from the pavilion. When they were safely out of sight he caught her waist and pulled her body closer. He pressed his mouth to hers, eager and hungry, cupping her stunning warmth within his hands until it went gently pink, until every hint of coldness melted from her aura and she swayed gently on her feet.

"Is this more to your liking?" he asked.

Sparkling eyes, flushed cheeks, lower lip caught between her teeth. Evin smiled up at him. "Ma lath. I missed you."

He assured her he had as well—with as much devotion as he could muster while half his generals stood nearby pretending not to notice. For all his worries he was relieved to find her fit and flourishing and not very angry. But there was something different about her too. A tang of metal—an unexpected taste of newness. She was unharmed but something had happened.

He studied her expression, trying to understand the change. "I gather there was turmoil. On multiple fronts."

"It's fine. I sorted it," she said vaguely.

He tried again. "Are you well?"

She pushed away a little. "As far as I know." There was an edge of hesitance to her voice. Her aura, delectable and inviting a moment ago, was now carefully controlled. Evin folded her hands together in a deliberate appearance of calm.

A loom of worries, a thousand woven emotions he could not untangle however he tried. His stomach began to churn and knot. When had he ever been able to read her? Evin had always been a mystery to him, but he knew what had happened.

The elvhen had cast her into sleep the moment he had gone. To think that she had challenged him once—that she had promised to win her freedom. That was over now, and he ached to realize it. How disappointed she must feel. How frustrated. Here, then, were the limits of Evin's foresight. Her magnificent plan had come undone. Looking back on it he wondered why he had been so foolish as to agree to her bargain. The idea of sending Evin to Dirthavaren—what she must face there—had he been insane?

As much as he hated to admit it, the elvhen were probably right.

Evin might be better off asleep. The situation had certain advantages. Surahn had done it—how convenient—Evin would not blame him.

Not that he would ever admit it.

"The elvhen should not have coerced you," he said. "Were you unable to remove the binding on your own?"

Evin lifted her right hand, palm up. The dreaming runes twined around it, a pattern of lethargy that disappeared beneath the pale hem of her sleeve. Its magic spoke to him with one voice, the will of the elvhen. A brutal, beautiful manacle.

"I promised Varen I would stay. I gave my word. Surahn agreed to break the spell but there's no magic for it now. The Hearth isn't stable. That's why I'm still asleep." Evin looked up at him with uncertainty in her somber eyes. "Ma lath, there's something we should discuss. Something important."

Seeing the shadow of worry in her face he felt determined. Whatever had gone wrong he would deal with it. As he always did. Once Evin had given her word she would not break it. She was not angry or railing at the elvhen. His vhenan had accepted her fate as a seer would. Her place was at the temple, not facing off against a god's vessel in Dirthavaren.

As for the binding, he saw no reason to sever it.

A hint to Varen was all it would take. Let there be an innocent delay. Evin would sleep until he returned.

"I would be happy to speak with you after the council meeting, vhenan. I take it you abandoned your plan?"

He expected downcast eyes, perhaps a frown. Instead she laughed—with secret, intriguing amusement. "Abandon it, Dread Wolf? Why would I do that?"

She did not look defeated.

Fen'Harel's pulse began to race. He wanted to touch her again, to test the mischief in her eyes. The knots in his stomach were suddenly larks with lace wings. "Vhenan?"

"We'll talk later. I don't want to be overheard." Her face grew earnest, eyes intent with lifted brows. "Promise you'll tell me about Skyhold. I want to know everything. How is Revas?"

It took a moment to pull his attention away from this new puzzle. He made himself focus on her words. "The little one is well. He sleeps."

Her sunset eyes widened. "You didn't wake him?"

"I—" He paused. "Do you wish me to?"

"No, that is—. Of course not. You're very busy. Fixing things."

Something in her manner changed for the worse. It was like a candle had gone out. Fen'Harel regretted it acutely but the final contingent of elvhen had just arrived and they had no more time alone. Varen walked up to them. To Fen'Harel's surprise he wished to speak to Evin.

If only they'd had a moment longer. What had she hinted at? Was failure part of her plan? That could not be.

The council meeting opened. The elvhen gathered within the pavilion at a white marble table. Fen'Harel scanned the faces around him. Some he knew more by name and reputation, others through ages of shared struggle and sacrifice. And then there were the gaps. Missing faces. Men and women who had fallen. Elvhen he had sent through eluvians never to return. Companions who slept or died or broke their promises and betrayed. Tools that broke in his hands. Friends he could not bear to lose.

And now Evin stood among them.

They began by discussing the incursion on the temple. There were injuries among the elvhen, some severe, but no deaths. Nor had the attackers left anyone behind. The elvhen were somewhat dumbfounded to learn who they were.

"Dalish? Shem elvhen? But they did not fight like barbarians," one of the generals said.

"They're not barbarians," Evin protested.

"A debatable point. Of course I did not mean to imply anything about you, Inquisitor," the man added hastily.

The Anchor hardly flickered. Evin's mouth straightened into a line.

"How did they manage to penetrate the wards?" Fen'Harel asked.

Era'garas spread her hands in a gesture of apology. "When the Hearth collapsed there was little to stop them. The attack was done by eluvian. Our mages are attempting to find the focus limits of their mirrors, but it will take some time."

"You're saying the temple could be attacked again?" Evin asked. "At any moment?"

"Do not worry yourself, Inquisitor. We placed your body in the vaults. You're quite safe among the elders," an advisor said.

Fen'Harel began to feel a bit ashamed. If the elvhen patronized Evin to this extent in his presence, how did they treat her when he was elsewhere? Moments ago he'd congratulated himself on his plan to keep her safely asleep. He was guilty of the same offense. If Evin was to be an ally he should treat her as one. Wake her—make full use of her abilities.

But what kind of ally would let herself become so vulnerable?

She is not ready, he told himself.

"I find it difficult to believe the elvhen we fought were Dalish," one of the generals was saying. "I studied them. The quicklings have little magic and no eluvians at all. They roam the countryside in wagons. They eat bee pollen and honeycomb and dance naked in the moonlight. With panpipes."

"I read that book, lethallin," Evin said impatiently. "It also accuses Dalish of stealing babies for blood rituals. Nonsense written by humans."

"Are you certain? I have nothing against dancing in the moonlight. It's traditional. Where I draw the line is stealing babies—"

"You forget that I spent time among the Dalish," Fen'Harel cut in before Evin lost her temper. "Whatever else they were or are, Dirthamen commands them now. I assure you it was no easy feat to extinguish the Hearth. That alone deserves respect."

"It's almost like the Keeper of Secrets studied them for years, learning how to wield them," Evin remarked.

Era'garas braced her hands together. Her pale eyes were thoughtful. "The attack was well-executed. If the Dalish return in greater numbers—if they return before the Hearth is restored—we might lose more than lives. We could lose Hellathen Viran."

The others fell silent, each into his or her own thoughts.

"Can we negotiate?" someone asked.

"With a Creator? Do not be absurd."

"If the temple is at risk I should return immediately," Fen'Harel said.

"You might not arrive in time," Era'garas replied.

"We must find and seal those eluvians—"

One of the generals brought his fist down on the table. "Why do we ignore the obvious? We have our own mirrors targeting the Plains. We should counterattack. These Dalish are itinerants. Vagabonds. They may have gathered at Dirthavaren but they cannot be well-fortified. We should target their supplies. Teach them to fear their elders. Force them to disperse."

"Is that what you want? For the Dalish to hate the elvhen?" Evin exclaimed. "If you attack their supplies that means what exactly? Destroying food, killing halla? There are entire families at the Arlathvhen. Women and children would go hungry."

"They should have thought of that before they tried to steal you from us," the man replied.

The expedience of war, Fen'Harel thought. When the people are threatened their impulse is to reach for any atrocity that promises safety, no matter how misguided. He would intervene before matters reached that point. He hoped it would not be necessary.

Era'garas had already begun to shake her head. Her face darkened with foreboding. "During the attack I encountered a Dalish warrior, one who practiced the dirth'ena enasalin. I was injured and my blade had shattered. I thought I would die. He spared my life, lethallin. I do not believe they are so different from us," she paused, "nor can I condone a strategy that would trap us between two enemies. Let us not forget the Lord of Malice and the lives he has already claimed. My lords and ladies, we must consider evacuating Hellathen Viran."

Fen'Harel had already considered that option. The fact was there was nowhere else to go. If he scattered his people to the wind it would only weaken and divide them. He preferred for the elvhen to discuss and decide matters for themselves, without his interference, but there was a danger here that fear or anger would lead them astray. Time to step in, he thought.

"When one is outnumbered, evade," Fen'Harel said.

"Or sue for peace," Evin countered.

He gazed at her sharply. "The Keeper of Secrets will not listen to words of mine, Inquisitor. Not when the advantage is his. I hope you were not referring to Anaris."

"Neither. We only need to persuade the Dalish. I encountered one of my people during the attack. Dirthamen lied to them. The truth is a better weapon than steel or magic. Let me speak directly to them. I can write to the Keepers," Evin said.

"Will the Dalish believe you when a Creator is at hand?" Era'garas said.

"All we need is a delay. After the Hearth is restored the temple will be safe enough," Evin said.

"I do not see the harm in a letter," the general said.

Yes, a temporary truce. That had been Evin's plan. Until the affinities had thrown it out the window. Now she was walking them back from the brink. Fen'Harel wondered if he should meet with Dirthamen in her place. Would that satisfy the God of Secrets? What sort of truce could they enforce between their followers when blood had already been shed? Would the Dalish give up on 'freeing' her? Or did Evin intend for something else? What did she plan to tell him later? He felt like he was walking blind, but what else was there to do?

"The affinities will have to wake me," Evin began.

"Is that necessary? Surely these Dalish will recognize your words. The letter need not be written in your own hand," one of the advisors said.

Fen'Harel did not speak to contradict him. Nor did anyone else.

"I see," Evin said slowly.

"There is still the question of whether to evacuate," Era'garas said.

"Let the affinities decide as they will. As for myself, I have no intention of abandoning Hellathen Viran," Fen'Harel said.

"Then we stay, honored one," Era'garas said. A glance at the others showed they were in agreement. "We will defend the temple, whatever happens."

At this point Varen, who had not spoken until now, crossed his arms over his armored chest. "I do not care what happens to quicklings, especially ones commanded by that murderer. Anaris is the greater threat. Let us discuss the attack on the Font."

"May we see the maps, Inquisitor?" Era'garas asked.

The generals gathered around the table in a circle. Evin's ability to generate images in the Fade was not limited to foresight. The model she created did not have the clarity of the Vianaris, but Evin took them through the Font level by level.

"You negotiated for the use of my farsight. Here is the result," she said.

Fen'Harel exhaled sharply, almost a laugh. "Do you see it, lethallin?"

Era'garas was the first to answer. "The entire Font is contaminated. Veins of red lyrium run through every level. We knew the Huntress was corrupted. Now we know why."

"Your enemies took a shortcut to power. Make them pay the price," Evin said.

"What do you propose?" Fen'Harel asked.

"Red lyrium is inherently unstable. Explosive. I've seen what happens when it detonates. Send in a strike team, four or five of your best people. Move in covertly and plant mines at key locations." Evin gestured—the places she indicated lit up like embers she had touched with the Anchor. "Normally in such a case I'd send myself. But if you want me to stay behind I understand," she added with a cool smile.

Yes, Fen'Harel thought, she normally would go herself. The actions of a small team were easier to foresee. Here it was—all of the Inquisitor's signature tactics wrapped up in a bow. A targeted, devastating strike calculated to destroy.

She offered him this—in spite of everything the elvhen had done. In spite of his silence. Ma vhenan, he thought.

"If the Inquisitor's farsight is correct... if it works. We would destroy the Font completely. All of it would be lost," one of the officers said.

"Overwhelming victory is my favorite kind," Evin said.

Era'garas walked a few steps to observe the entrance to the Font from a different angle. "I've covered this terrain myself. It won't be easy to avoid the permanent wards. A diversion would help the infiltration team. We could assault the Font with conventional forces simultaneously."

Evin shook her head. "With respect, there are too many choke points inside the Font. It's better to maintain stealth. Otherwise you should make clear to the team that they're not likely to return."

The officers exchanged covert glances. She expected the strike team to survive? Perhaps they would—if nothing alerted the enemy to their presence.

"I see the logic," Era'garas conceded. "Let's say, then, that if the effort fails we'll fall back to a more traditional attack. We should begin staging just in case."

"As long as the people we send aren't distracted by random heroic impulses," someone muttered.

"That was Taren'nan's decision, not mine. You know how he is when an idea seizes him. Or was, rather," Era'garas said.

The officer who had spoken grimaced. The mood of the elvhen darkened appreciably.

"I believe we are decided. Unless there are other objections?" Fen'Harel asked.

"We have not heard Varen's opinion. What does the leader of the sentinels have to say about this plan?" one asked.

Fen'Harel bit the inside of his lip to conceal his displeasure. Varen was not one to downplay his criticism of the Inquisitor. Or his dislike.

Indeed, the former sentinel waited until he had everyone's attention. "In my opinion," Varen said, "we should do as Lady Evin says."

After the meeting ended Fen'Harel held a few more necessary conversations with individual members of the council. He rushed through them, a bit more curt than he intended, but Evin had a habit of suddenly disappearing from the Fade and he did not want her to leave without him. If she was right about the Font—if he truly could demolish Anaris' followers at a stroke—everything that had happened so far, all the sacrifice, all the effort, would be repaid. Let Dirthamen play with his magicless elvhen. The Lord of Malice and his forces were the true threat.

Anaris had tried to kill her. It would not happen again.

When the last of the officers was satisfied, Fen'Harel left the pavilion in search of his vhenan. But he did not get more than a step beyond it.

"May I have a word, Dread Wolf?" Varen asked.

Fen'Harel inclined his head. The former sentinel fell in beside him—keeping to an easy pace while Fen'Harel's eyes scanned automatically for Evin.

"I did not expect you to praise the Inquisitor's plan," Fen'Harel said.

"Much has become clear," Varen said. His voice was rich but cold, never less than half a shade from sarcasm. "Surahn tells me it will take at least five days to restore the Hearth. A great deal could happen in that time."

Fen'Harel nearly missed a step. Shocked, he turned to face the former sentinel. "Why did you not speak during the meeting? The council would have insisted I return."

Varen's lip curled with disdain. "I do not share their cowardice. The Dalish will not attack again. You should focus on what you alone can do, Dread Wolf—defeating Anaris. The Inquisitor wields the Anchor. Let her ignite the Hearth."

"The Inquisitor?" Fen'Harel repeated. His lips remained parted while he fumbled after words. "Evin—? You astonish me. I have decided it would be best if the Inquisitor remains asleep."

"Respectfully, honored one, I disagree."

"I thought you would approve. Varen, what has—"

"Surahn has no power. The others have no understanding. You should wake her. I presume you can break the binding at a distance," Varen said.

That was beside the point. What had changed Varen's mind? Was he so concerned about Hellathen Viran he did not care about the Anchor slipping away? That went against everything he had said before. Fen'Harel would have been less surprised to discover the man under the influence of blood magic.

So. Evin had finally managed to persuade him. Was this how she intended to win her freedom?

It will take more than that, Fen'Harel told himself.

"I will consider your words," he said. Cool. Noncommittal.

"Foolish Wolf." Varen's words were stained with bitterness. "I thought I understood why you kept her close. I told myself you loved her because it was the only way you could control the Anchor. A cruelty worthy of the Wolf. I did not approve but I told myself—as long as he maintains the pretense, I will not object. If I had found her first this would be a very different conversation."

"What are you saying?" Fen'Harel demanded.

"The Inquisitor must accept her role. And so must you."

Before Varen left he performed his usual sinuous reverence—but the unhappy scowl at his lips ruined it.

Fen'Harel walked further into the garden, but his body was tense with anger. Varen had never accepted his relationship with the Inquisitor. To learn what he truly thought—no, Fen'Harel was not surprised. Was Varen right about the Anchor? If there were a way to remove the Mark without killing her—if Evin had refused to come with him, if the Anchor were endangering her—would he have done it? Perhaps, but that was impossible now and it was pointless to consider. Varen sounded almost protective. Imagine it! What had Evin said to him?

Curiosity kindled, slightly bemused, Fen'Harel felt in his pocket for the flower. The enchantment sparked under his attention. He glanced up to determine the direction—and there she was.

"Looking for something?" Evin purred.

A wordless thrill caught his breath. "Answers, if you have them," he said.

A Dreamer in the Fade. Half a thought, an impulse, and Evin was in his arms, hands clasped behind his neck, a sensation of white heat and light that blinded eyes far better suited to hunting in the dark. The doubt he felt dissolved into longing, collapsing with the other barriers that separated them. If this was only a kiss it left him shaking and weak.


"My love." Evin turned her face into his chest to hide a satisfied smile. "You owe me a star."

Chapter Text

The Wolf would not have freed Evin Lavellan. She was his Anchor, his Inquisitor, his mate. He was a creature of Pride and Strife and things of such a kind—lesser emotions did not signify. He cared only about the deadly game he waged against the gods, where the stakes were as high as the world. That evening in the Grove it was not the Wolf who let her go. The Wolf would have stolen every proof of her affection and vanished with her heart between his jaws. But that was something Fen'Harel would not permit, and so the man had ended it.

Evin had never left him. He had not let her decide. Back then he'd attributed her feelings to ignorance—she did not know what she invited to her bed—but now he recognized something that astonished him, what his soul coveted but did not innately understand. She loved him, truly, in spite of what she knew. The mother of his child loved him.

His brilliant star, the cunning prey he'd trapped but would not devour. He wanted to consume her and be consumed, to possess and be possessed. Despite everything he still doubted—pressed into her for proof—tangled his mind with hers. The Anchor was a silver flame that burned him, an ache he could not release until she yielded, until she demanded he yield back.

"You said you wanted answers. Aren't you going to ask me?"

Later, he thought impatiently.

I won't argue, she replied, and laughed.

Fen'Harel's eyes flickered and opened. Wayward ashen curls had fallen across her cheek. He brushed them away with a tentative caress—drawing a brilliant smile—and placed kisses along her throat until he reached the delicate shell of her ear. Evin gasped at his flicking tongue, squirmed and laughed again and sat up. She clambered to her feet, dragged him to his, and stood to gaze out across the moor.

A pale golden moon hid itself in a sky of green mist, shy sovereign of a night-dark field in the Fade. The air was neither warm nor cold but alive with fickle magic. Quiet but for their own hearts, their own music. They were all alone.

He contemplated an entire evening in Evin's company with a smug sense of satisfaction. A fitting reward for his labors. Too often he felt as though he were chasing after her. Why was she always in such a hurry? When she joined him in bed she left before morning. She flitted here and there in the Fade, stretching time in unnatural ways—an impulse as foreign to an immortal as a torch was to the sun. But not tonight, he told himself. Then his eyes glimpsed a shadow of the spell across her arm.

His breath caught in his throat. He felt shamed, as painful and acute as a discovered lie.

She might not want to be here. It might not be her first choice. The Wolf would have trapped her.

Evin gazed at him curiously. "Ma lath?"

Fen'Harel squared his shoulders to fortify himself. He gestured at her hand. "Varen told me to wake you. You managed to convince him. Is that how you intend to escape from the elvhen?"

Evin ducked her head. In anyone else he might have called it nervous. A curious tension. "That's what I meant to tell you. Fen'Harel, I already left."

"You cannot be serious."

A corner of her mouth lifted. "Try me."

"You have not left the temple. I know you did not." The words came out sharper than he intended.

Evin clasped her hands behind her back. If some part of her was anxious, she was also pleased with herself. Her arch smile was amused, even gleeful. "I'll give you three guesses," she said, "and when you admit defeat you'll strip Surahn's enchantment from my wrist."

"A prediction? The affinities have acted, Inquisitor, and you made me promise not to interfere. Or do you intend to sway me as you did Varen?" He truly hoped that was not her plan. "Is this the part where you nudge me? Persuade me with your chosen words. Prove that I branch obedient to your will."

Her fierce, clever smile—ah, how he liked those eyes. They reassured him. Evin gave a slight shake of her head. "I'm not trying to convince you. I'm asking if you want to play."

Swallowing his consternation, Fen'Harel backed up half a step. He had already decided the sleep spell should stay, and he was not especially principled where his vhenan's safety was concerned. What he was not willing to do was lie to her about it. If he'd misread the situation—. The Inquisitor had, as always, an unerring way of driving at the truth.

The Dread Wolf could not resist a riddle.

He took another step from her, obliquely, to view her sideways on. He had noticed something different—

"Are you inspecting me?" Evin asked.

He raised his hand to his chin, braced his elbow with his opposite arm. "Surahn's enchantment is still active. You are very much asleep. If you left perhaps it was only in a manner of speaking. One could call Fadewalking a way of 'leaving' Hellathen Viran."

The smile widened on her lips. "I'm the Inquisitor, not the Trickster. I don't play games with words. You have two more guesses."

A wave of cold rushed through him, but it was exhilarating, sparkling. What had been her exact words before he'd been distracted? You owe me a star. The night she had arrived they'd made a bargain. The elvhen refused to release her, they meant to keep the Anchor prisoner in a very comfortable cell, but she had made him promise.

If I win I want a present....

Perhaps she truly had found a way.

Time magic? he wondered. It was her signature. Magister Alexius had sent her forward through time at Redcliffe. Such magic should be impossible now that the Breach was closed. Perhaps with the Anchor unlocked— "Could you have altered time in such a way—? You might have visited the future and come back. In that future you could have gone to Dirthavaren."

Even as he spoke he knew the guess was wrong.

"Clever. But no. Last guess, Dread Wolf."

"Whatever it was, Varen saw you do it," he said instantly.

"Correct. But that's not a guess. I don't think I should answer random questions unless you've given up." Evin cocked her head to one side. "Do you admit defeat?"

His attention was entirely focused on her. The tiniest flicker of expression, the smallest working of her breath, and here in the Fade, the minute fluctuations of her personal umbra as a mage. They all told him he was nowhere near the truth.

Not Fadewalking.

Not time magic.

What remained?

He puzzled over it, worrying at it the way the Wolf would test a bone. Pacing a little more, sketching restless half-circles, he glanced at her from time to time. Evin was enjoying herself immensely. This was an amusing game for her. There was nothing frightening about the answer.

"The elvhen think they placed you in the uthenera chambers, but you are not actually there." That was what he almost said.

At the last instant he caught back the words. She was the Inquisitor, not the Trickster. Such an obvious answer would not suffice.

He had spent the entire council meeting convinced the elvhen had forced her into sleep, congratulating himself on it. When did anyone force the Inquisitor to do anything? Evin had foresight. She would have had multiple chances to avoid the binding. If she slept, it was because she allowed it to happen.

He was not thinking at a high enough level. Only a fool would underestimate Inquisitor Lavellan.

If it were me, if I needed to be in two places at once, what would I do?

A tang of metal like a reverberation. A trembling echo. All those signs of tension.

Varen's words: She must accept her role.

Another voice, a very old voice, answered from deep within: Bodies are such limiting things. Why restrict yourself to just one?

"Stay with me," he said, lifting his eyes to meet hers. A plea. "Do not go yet."

"I'll stay as long as you let me," Evin said.

He extended his hand, palm up, for hers, and clasped her narrow wrist. He followed the pitch black line of runes with his eyes, reciting their names under his breath. With the brute force of the orb he snapped the will of the elvhen. He did it crudely, willfully, because such things deserved contempt. As did he for thinking he had trapped her.

"How did you—" No, that was not how he should begin. He shook his head and started again. "There are many names the Dalish forgot. The few they remembered... the mightiest, the most notorious. The First. All had something in common. As elvhen we did not age. We did not suffer sickness. But we did not call ourselves immortal. If I translated the elven word into common it would have a different meaning: ruan'in."

Her eyes sparked with alarm. "What are you saying? You told me once you didn't believe in gods."

"Nor did I use that word just now. You have a normal elvhen soul. Give or take the Mark."

Evin's brow furrowed. "That's not very reassuring." Confusion, distress, all the things he would protect her from if she would only stop—stop—being the Inquisitor. Evin straightened her posture. She looked up at him, steady once more. "I saw the branch and I took it. If what I did was wrong—"

"You must let me finish," he said gently. "If someone tried to harm you now they would have to know what you had done. They must sever the link to all your selves and prevent you from creating a new one. That is far beyond the power of most mages."

Evin looked less than reassured. "I used the pool in the sanctum. I don't know if I could do it on my own."

"The pool is a reflection of yourself. All it did was mirror the power you gave it."

He hardly heard his own words as he spoke. His mind was consumed with calculation. Estimates, guesses, reevaluations.

This is why none of the branches showed that she had died. This is why the God of Secrets wants her. He cannot know. He cannot know! I perceive her magic and her spirit far better than that one. If I did not see it he will not—

Evin has already gone. It is too late to recall her. But the Anchor is still mine.

"Did you go to Dirthavaren alone? Did anyone else accompany you? Who besides Varen knows you have done this?" he asked.

She gave the answer he expected. "Cole went with me."

He felt a stab of grief. But there were more important things to consider than what he could not change. "You must keep one of your selves at Hellathen Viran. You gave your word to Varen. Will you promise me?"

"I promise," she said. But the sense of agitation had returned. All of it at once like a weight crashing to the floor. "Ma lath, something went wrong. What you said—about severing the link to my other self—I think I might have done that. By mistake."

"Why? How do you feel?" Fen'Harel didn't wait for her to answer. He withdrew his orb from its place of concealment. He activated it, let its cool yellow light spike between his fingers, and focused it on her.

Evin winced at the glare. "Everything was fine until I went through the eluvian. When that happened I lost her. Or me. Whoever." Evin made a wordless sound of frustration. "I don't know what she's doing or what branch she's following. I don't know where she is!"

Fen'Harel glanced at the orb again, then at her, narrowing his eyes in contemplation. "Remarkable," he murmured.

She stared at him with alarm, even panic in her face. Her cheeks had gone pale with worry. "What is it? Tell me."

"You don't know where she is or what she is doing," Fen'Harel repeated. "At last you know how I feel." When he saw the irritated pout of her lips he barely kept back open laughter. Mischief and relief made him grin. Now he knew what bothered her—she was no longer in control. "A fascinating development. Neither of us have any idea what your other self will do. We can marvel over her actions together."

"I see... if I wanted any kind of sympathy I should have spoken to Cole, not you," Evin said with a pondering frown, but he sensed the sardonic undercurrent.

"Vhenan will have my sympathy when she consults me before she performs miracles, not after." Fen'Harel extinguished the Focus. "Your pattern is remarkably stable. As you must have foreseen when you decided to attempt this. I see no cause for concern. It seems likely that the eluvian broke the link to your manifestation. A beginner's mistake. In time you will learn to maintain a portion of your awareness here. You have only to wait until your enathar accesses the Fade. Your minds will reunite."

"Then I should remain here until that happens," Evin said.

The star he had freed, the one who chose to stay. He slipped an arm around her waist, drawing her closer, smiling down at her. "Knowing you it will not take long. Let us wait together, vhenan. The night is young. We can explore the wonders of the Fade."

"Explore the Fade? Can we have sex first? Or was that some sort of ancient elvhen euphemism?"

His interest was immediate and as sharp as dragonscale. But he somehow managed to feign regret. "Ir abelas, vhenan. I have a pressing engagement with a beautiful woman. She looks exactly like you—"

"I'd rather make her jealous."

Evin had never been one to wait for a kiss. Or anything else. She sank to the ground, pulling him down beside her with an insistent tug, and he fell back obligingly under her weight. His shoulders settled against a soft carpet of insubstantial moss. He let it solidify beneath them, gazing up as she straddled him, delighted by the desire in her eyes.

You have years of absence to make up for, Fen'Harel. Evin bent over him to taste his lips. Testing his desire. Igniting it. I hope you're not tired.

I am. Very tired. I expect to sleep for many more hours, all the time until morning. I await your pleasure, ma vhenan....

Chapter Text

Fade sex had all sorts of advantages. It had none of the potential awkwardness of reality. No muscle cramps. No friction burns. No need to carefully plait your hair before bed lest it snarl into knots. As considerate a lover as Fen'Harel was, sometimes their mutual enthusiasm left Evin aching for an elfroot-infused bath—but in the Fade nothing hurt unless you wanted it to. You were limited only by imagination. She could have donned a feather headdress or smeared herself with colorful mud like an Avvar priestess to make him laugh. His emotions were almost tangible without the Veil. She sensed how engrossed he was, the thrill as he lost himself, the blinding intensity of his ecstasy. He wanted to show her everything—delighted to discover it with her—lightly raking his claws across the Mark to make her shudder. Claws? Hands. Whatever, too confusing to think about—for a moment too delirious—soaring on sculpted wings like a wind-addled cloud. Or a bird. Something that could fly.

But her other self still hadn't arrived.

She didn't want to think about that now. She wanted to lose herself too, and at certain points she did. But somehow the Fade also made the act of love less real. As wonderful as everything was she kept thinking of other things. Skyhold and her people there. Revas, whom Solas hadn't woken. The Dalish in Dirthamen's hands. Her missing self. Plans within plans and not knowing which branches would change. He was inside her, filling her, and she couldn't focus on him like she wanted to.

"Vhenan, is something wrong?"

"Solas—" Maker. Had she really just called him that? "I mean, whoever you are—"

An incredulous smile parted his lips. "What was that?"

She felt a flare of chagrin. Of course he'd noticed. What was she thinking? This never would have happened in the real world. She could have avoided this branch—she would have known what to do. She wanted to die. In a completely metaphorical way.

She laughed softly, nervous and a little breathless. "Don't expect me to make sense when I—when you're—. I'm sorry, ma lath. I'm all mixed up."

"I don't mind that." His hands slid up her thighs, his hips ground into hers in a slow but forceful movement calculated to make her head swim, to make her forget her own name. "You seem distracted."

She couldn't answer immediately. Words were too confusing. Fen'Harel's hands gripped her waist and he stopped moving with her. An image flashed through her mind—one where he was no longer lying beneath her but she was by his side, and since she liked it and he liked it, it was suddenly so.

Fen'Harel propped himself up on one elbow. He trapped her legs beneath one of his and let an avaricious hand clasp her breast. Was there a bed? Where had that come from? She peeked up. They were in some sort of... room. Featureless walls of blue-veined marble. She didn't recognize anything about it.

Fen'Harel planted a light kiss on her shoulder. His watchful smile was a bit lazy, every inch the satisfied Wolf. "So many thoughts," he murmured. "What were you thinking about just now?"

Evin felt herself turning pink. Pinker. "You."

"And what else?"

She hesitated. Was he going to interrogate her? "The other me. I can't help wondering when she'll—I'll—return."

"I sense something else." One fingertip traced a line between her breasts. "Something about me but not. What is it?"

She couldn't quite look him in the face. "I don't know."

His hand stilled. He fell into silence and she thought the answer had satisfied him, until she realized how much it hadn't. Beneath his skin she sensed an undercurrent of disquiet. They were too close right now to conceal much of anything. The small lies that normally soothed were magnified here. Didn't she trust Fen'Harel to understand her feelings? No, she didn't. A part of her clearly didn't. She'd always been too shy with her emotions where he was concerned. That's why it hurt to be honest with him now. She wasn't used to it yet.

A lump in her throat made it difficult to speak. "I'm sorry. I ruined it."

"You ruined me twice by my counting," he said. But he seemed to make a conscious effort to relax. "I would rather we enjoy ourselves equally. Won't you share your worries? And if you cannot, at least say why?"

Evin cringed inside, she braced herself, but she didn't know how to avoid it now. The awful truth. Not when he was trying so hard to be wonderful.

"It's going to sound like I'm blaming you. I'm not."

His eyebrows lifted. He said nothing.

"Just now I was thinking about Revas," she admitted.

"You were thinking about... our son."

At the note of surprise in his voice she burned with self-consciousness. "You're at Skyhold. You're there with him. The last thing that happened was the Dalish and their vallaslin. They attacked the tower where he was hiding. He's sleeping now and there are countless reasons he should stay asleep, but if I were there I wouldn't have waited a single moment. I would have woken him. Just to hold him. To tell him..." She sighed. "You said something about not being good with children. I don't expect you to love him the way I do. Not right away. I miss him more than I can say."

When he didn't reply immediately she felt wretched and awkward all at once. It was foolish anyway. What kind of woman thought about her child at such a moment? Revas wasn't in any danger. He was perfectly fine. Fen'Harel wouldn't wake him to wander around a castle strewn with red lyrium. He didn't have time to look after a three-year-old on top of everything else. No matter how adorable the three-year-old was.

Fen'Harel shifted his weight onto his side. Cool lips brushed her cheek. "Revas is sleeping soundly, ma vhenan. When I arrived the first thing I did was look in on him. He is safe. He is well. When I return I will bring him with me. I believe in the future you showed me, Asha'vianar. We will raise our child among the People, in the world we build together."

Evin gazed at her vhenan, his downcast eyes, the slow movement of his chest. She loved him so much she ached.

How many times had she imagined he would come back? Not from a hope that he still loved her—as the years had passed that hope had died—but that he might meet his son and care about him as much as she did. She couldn't expect him to, not immediately. It wasn't fair to ask. But maybe someday. And if there was another child in their future, a little girl like the dream she'd had before he left, they would share that joy together.

Fen'Harel's fingers brushed her chin. She looked up—his worried gaze met hers.

"I do love him, vhenan. From the moment I saw him. I never stopped loving you."

How could she not kiss him after that?

When she broke away a new thrill went through him, an airy feeling of giddiness. Or mischief. "Kiss me like that again. I may forgive you for thinking about someone else while I was inside you."

A shocked laugh escaped her. "I'll think about whomever I please, Wolf."

He seized her hands, pushing them aside, and as she began to laugh again she felt his hot breath in her ear. "Let me share my wisdom, ma sa'Evin. What distracted you before is not just our son. In this moment the future is beyond your choosing. It lies in your counterpart's hands. And mine. Now you are here with me, nowhere else, and I demand your full attention."

His teeth nipped at her neck. Suddenly each sensation was just as sharp. And so much more immediate, like stripping away a layer of gauze. She was trapped in his hands like a bird, a prey thing, and hoped he would hold her there forever. He released her wrists to shift his attention to the rest of her body, to let her embrace him the way she wanted. Her fingers followed the lean muscles of his arms, past his shoulders, up to the smooth bare skin of his scalp. His face was so close to hers—the sharp indentation of his scars, pale and faded freckles, soft and parted lips.

The eyes that returned her gaze were dark as clouds on a moonless night, deep and full of secrets. Far, far older than just a man. The disguise had lifted.

Then he smirked like a devil.

In a blink of thought he flipped her over and slapped her on the ass. Before she could do more than exclaim with surprise he stretched himself out along her body, skin to skin, while his erection pressed into her thigh. He twisted one of her hands behind her. She was pinned.

Perfect, yes, exactly this—

"Ir abelas, vhenan. I may have been playing it a bit too mild. Let's stop thinking for a while." His voice was cool but everywhere his skin touched hers was fire, desire, want.

She arched up against him and he made a small sound of approval. He probed the Anchor and it flared in reaction, sending ecstatic shocks throughout her body and probably an entire region of the Fade. When he slid his hand between her legs a groan escaped her.

His aura slammed into her like a storm.

There was no more thinking after that.

She felt dizzy in a good way. Like a new-made thing with uncertain, dancing legs and brain a little hollow. They were strolling through the Fade, following a path through a wood with no certainty of where they were, no need to be anywhere but with each other. Everything looked young and beautiful and bright.

"I can't tell if I'm walking or flying," Evin said.

Fen'Harel's expression was fond but... complicated. The corners of his mouth turned down. "How do you feel? Too sudden, too rough?"

"I don't mind rough," she said, and he sucked in a breath. "That got a reaction," she observed.

"You give me many reactions." His face did not so much as twitch.

He was so placid she was instantly suspicious. "Is that what you truly enjoy, Fen'Harel? I don't want you to think only about me. Do you want me on my knees? Should I take you in my mouth and serve you?"

"I do not object to any of those things if you would like to try them. What I want most is to learn what you enjoy. To better enjoy you." His gaze drifted up her body. A connoisseur's discerning smile. "My plans do not end in years or even ages. I hope we will be together a very long time. If you think later about what happened and your opinion changes, tell me."

He looped his arm with hers, leaned in closer as they walked, and placed a kiss in her hair. They followed a path under the trees, content to be together, happy to enjoy whatever moments of peace remained until her second self returned. Though at times she felt a bit impatient. What in the world was she doing?

She wasn't sure who or what had made the path they chose. If a spirit or demon ruled this place none had made an appearance. The woods became a glen, and then a narrow trail led into a valley. A dusty city nestled in its hollow. A city with forty white spires and a Chantry in every parish.

She knew this place.

The moment she recognized it they were surrounded. Ramshackle homes sprouted from the ground like mushrooms with sloping, patched roofs, repaired with whatever cheap materials the inhabitants could scrounge, because human landlords didn't care if an elf's roof leaked. Narrow, crooked streets barely wide enough for two men to walk abreast. Fen'Harel surveyed it curiously.

"A city slum in the Marches," he suggested. "A place for the poor."

"It's the Tantervale Alienage. I grew up here." Evin extended her senses carefully. "Have we trespassed on someone's domain? I don't sense another being."

"A Spirit of Remembrance, I think. Harmless. Would you like to look around?"

Exploring the Fade, she told herself. She nodded.

The central street of Tantervale's Alienage was a crooked lane that passed through a square. In its center was a coppiced vhenadahl with a massive trunk and a crown of straight, young branches woven with ribbons. Here was the Alienage smithy—who only had the equipment for simple repairs. There was the baker, there was the house where the hahren lived. With each step she unearthed a memory. The orphanage—she'd played with those children. Across the street was a shoemaker and his son. Evin remembered throwing caterpillars at him.

Evin gazed at the little houses and the streets empty of other people, suddenly conscious that they were exploring her memories. This wasn't Tantervale as it was today. There must have been countless changes. The Alienage as she knew it no longer existed.

"The neighborhood aunts were always fussing," she said. "In their eyes half Dalish meant half wild. They watched me like Ben-Hassrath. I remember one scolding me because I'd gotten muddy water on my dress. She said I looked like a savage. I told her yes, I was a savage, and I'd tell my Keeper to curse her as soon as we met."

"An ominous threat from a future Inquisitor," Fen'Harel said.

"She used to give me sweet buns from the oven. Steaming hot. They were delicious."

Fen'Harel gazed around with tolerable curiosity, but it was an Alienage like numerous others he'd seen. There was nothing special about it.

Evin felt a little self-conscious, and he probably sensed that, but there was no way on the Maker's green earth that she wasn't going to show him her childhood home. When they reached the little shuttered house she pushed open the door and gestured him inside.

He'd told her once that Solas was born in a village. Now that she knew more about the elvhen—and his true name—she suspected that was a lie. He couldn't have grown up in a village like the ones she knew. The elvhen were too different.

Her mother's house consisted of a single room. A partial wall marked off a sleeping partition, a sort of bedroom, from the common area. The fire was lit. The scent of loose-leaf tea with lavender, her mother's favorite blend, filled the air. As soon as she smelled it memories came flooding back. The misty corners of the interior grew sharp and solid with every detail she recalled.

There—at the table—the shadowy figure of an elderly elf sat before a book. "Great-grandfather!" Evin exclaimed. "He died when I was little. Oh, this brings back so much."

Fen'Harel walked to the shelf beside the fireplace. He scanned the contents and pulled out one of the books to read the cover.

"Those were Great-grandfather's. Mother kept her papers in the trunk," Evin said.

"Maxwell's Transfigurations," Fen'Harel read. An amused smile formed on his lips. "Is this an accurate memory? I think he must have been an apostate."

"Really?" Evin joined him by the bookshelf. "I remember now. There was a diagram he studied. Overlapping circles. He told me they were stars. He—he used to visit my dreams."

She fell silent. The elderly man with his pale violet eyes and sharply-pointed ears, the bony lap she sat on while he spoke to her in Tevene.

Evin shook her head to break the spell. "We were well-off for the Alienage. We never went hungry. But when I look at this place now—" She sighed. "We had nothing. A human owned the house and the garden out back. Most of us lived worse than this and still do. I've come so far and years have passed and I've still done almost nothing for the elves."

"You had other priorities then. It was more important to save the world. What you do with your power now is up to you," Fen'Harel said.

"This is why Dirthavaren is important. This is what I have to do. Humans made me the Inquisitor but I was born an elf. You know the statue they raised to me in Val Royeaux doesn't show my ears? It's already started. They'll try to erase me like they did Ameridan."

"For those in power the tale of an elf who rose too high is an inconvenience. The truth is secondary."

"I won't let them erase me," Evin said. I'll make sure they never forget. She gazed around the little one-roomed house, the figure of the aged hahren, and gave a solemn nod. "This is where I'm from."

"Well, let us continue on." Fen'Harel pushed through the door. But when they emerged they weren't in the Alienage.

They were in the sky.

Evin sucked in a terrified breath. Her arms wheeled to catch her balance. There was nothing beneath her. Nothing to stop her from plummeting hundreds of fee